At Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan summit, a show of unity


Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put on a display of unity Friday at a trilateral summit in Islamabad. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
February 17, 2012

At one end of the flower-festooned table sat the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, perhaps the world’s most relentless America basher.

At the other end sat Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s leader, who owes his government’s survival to the United States.

And in the middle was Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, whose country’s complex relationship with Washington swings from pole to pole.

If any conflict exists among the chief executives of the three neighboring Islamic nations, it certainly was not apparent Friday at the close of a two-day trilateral summit in Pakistan’s capital. At a news conference that Zardari hosted in his splendid official residence, the theme was fraternal unity as the trio pledged to work for peace and prosperity in a region racked by war and terrorism.

“When brothers join their hands together, certainly the hands of God will assist them,” Ahmadinejad said at the news conference, which he dominated with windy disquisitions against “outside powers,” the United States presumably among them.

“They have targeted our region for their domination and hegemony. . . . We should deny others the opportunity to interfere in our affairs,” he said. “All problems are coming from the outside.”

His government is under severe sanctions and a threat of attack from Israel for its nuclear program, but Ahmadinejad played down the importance of a nation having nuclear weapons. That, he said, “is not going to bring about superiority.”

Evidently referring to nuclear-armed Pakistan, he added, “The foundation of our political relationship is humanitarian and is based on common cultural values.”

The only public sign of friction at the summit concerned the long-alleged ties between Islamist militants and Pakistan’s military and intelligence service. Afghan officials have called Pakistan an impediment to a negotiated peace with the Taliban because it harbors insurgents who are at war with Karzai’s government. Separate bilateral talks between Karzai and Zardari were meant to smooth tensions, but no declarations of progress emerged.

Karzai’s comments at the news conference reflected the sense that cloudy goals and overall uncertainty have dogged the nascent peace efforts.

“What we need now is to formulate a policy that is actionable and implementable, and actually act upon it,” Karzai said.

Surrounded by reporters after the presidents spoke, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said it would be “unrealistic” and “preposterous” for Afghanistan to expect that her country could somehow arrange for Taliban leader Mohammad Omar to join the reconciliation negotiations.

Earlier, the news conference was cut off after one reporter tried to inquire about the Taliban. But in the back of the palatial hall, the cameramen were not satisfied. “Shake hands, shake hands,” some shouted at the presidents.

And, quite dutifully, the leaders of the embattled nations of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan did just that.

Richard Leiby is a senior writer in Post’s Style section. His previous assignments have included Pakistan Bureau Chief, and reporter, columnist and editor in Washington. He joined The Post in 1991.
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