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Afghan president lashes out at Pakistan

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HEIDI VOGT and KIMBERLY DOZIER | March 4, 2013 10:45 AM EST | AP

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai lashed out once again at his supposed ally, Pakistan, saying Monday that a statement by a Pakistani cleric endorsing suicide bombings in Afghanistan shows the neighboring country is not sincere in efforts to fight terrorism.

"Afghanistan wants a real struggle against terrorism and wants the Pakistani government to realize that both our nations are burning in the same fire," the Afghan leader said, speaking at a press conference with visiting NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

"The Pakistani government has an essential and important role in putting out this fire," Karzai added.

Karzai made the comment in response to a question about a statement last week by the head of the Pakistani clerics' council who had been scheduled to travel to Afghanistan for a meeting of the two countries' religious leaders.

The cleric, Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, said in a television interview that suicide attacks in Afghanistan are lawful because NATO troops are invaders that have occupied the country.

Karzai noted that Ashrafi was appointed to the delegation by the Pakistani government, implying that the government in Islamabad was backing his views.

"We see that practical steps are not being taken to fight terrorism," Karzai said, and added that a series of recent attacks in Pakistan show that the neighboring country is falling into chaos.

Ashrafi told The Associated Press that his comments had been taken out of context and that he considered suicide bombings un-Islamic.

He said that he was asked in an interview about his views on suicide bombings in Afghanistan and said that it was natural that people would fight back when their homes were occupied but that didn't necessarily mean suicide bombings.

Ashrafi said Karzai's statement on Monday had shut the door to the Pakistani clerics taking part in the planned conference of religious leaders.

"It will not happen until Karzai and the Afghan government apologize," Ashrafi said over the telephone from Cairo.

A spokesman for the Pakistan's foreign affairs ministry noted Ashrafi's denial in a statement, and said that comments by private individuals should not be seen as reflecting the views of the Pakistan government.

"Pakistan and the Ulema of this country have repeatedly condemned suicide attacks and consider them repugnant to the teachings of our glorious religion," the foreign ministry statement said.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been tense friends. Afghanistan has been deeply suspicious of the motives of a government that long backed the Taliban regime and has since seemed unable or unwilling to go after militant leaders taking refuge inside its borders. The killing of al-Qaida chief, Osama bin Laden, in Pakistan only strengthened Afghan wariness of the neighboring country

"The situation is getting out of control for everyone now. This is not to the benefit of Afghanistan, Pakistan or the region," Karzai said.

Fogh Rasmussen also condemned the cleric's statement and called on Pakistan to do more to rein in the extremist militants along its borders.

"Nothing can justify terrorist attacks," Fogh Rasmussen said. "We have repeatedly urged the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military to step up the fight against terrorism and extremism in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We need a positive engagement of Pakistan if we are to ensure long-term peace."

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Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.