KABUL, Afghanistan With Afghan discussions under way about the future involvement of the United States in the country and the prospect of long-term military bases, the Pakistani government has urged Afghanistan to distance itself from the West and tie its future more tightly to that of China and Pakistan, according to Afghans and Americans who are knowledgeable about a meeting between the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
During a landmark April 16 meeting here in Kabul, for which the most powerful figures in the Pakistani government flew to Afghanistan, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of Pakistan suggested that Afghanistan needed to look to China, a power in the ascendance, rather than hewing closely to the United States.
"There was a mention of China in the meeting, China as a country, as an emerging economic power, and that maybe we should reach out to a new global economic power," said an Afghan official knowledgeable about the meeting. "And there was the suggestion that Afghanistan and Pakistan should strengthen relations."
"You couldn't tell exactly what they meant, whether China could possibly be an alternative to the United States, but they were saying it could help both countries," the official said, referring to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The official asked not to be named because of the delicacy of the subject, which he was not authorized to speak about publicly.
The focus on China makes sense because it is a great power that would be acceptable to Afghanistan as an ally in ways that Russia never could be because of its history as a hated occupier of Afghanistan during the 1980s. And, from Pakistan's point of view, China provides a counterbalance to India, its archenemy.
The effort to draw Afghanistan away from the United States and toward China was first reported in The Wall Street Journal, and it was one of several proposals floated by Pakistan at the meeting, according to the Afghan news media. In Afghanistan, a number of Pakistan's other supposed proposals have gotten far more notice although it is not clear that they were portrayed accurately or proposed at all.
All the leaks, however, reflect the fears of different Afghan factions about the direction of Afghanistan's policy. One supposedly leaked list of Pakistan's proposals stated that the Pakistanis had asked that members of the Haqqani network, a Taliban ally based in Pakistan, be given a share of government power. People close to the Afghan government emphatically denied that Pakistan requested anything like that. "It's ridiculous," said a government official.
Another proposal apparently brought up again was an offer from Pakistan to train the Afghan National Army, said an American official knowledgeable about the talks, but who also did not wish to quoted by name because of the delicacy of the subject.
On Tuesday the Pakistani government released a statement saying that it rejected the "baseless assertions" made in the Wall Street Journal article and that "it fully supports an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process for peace and reconciliation," as well as "the key role of the United States in promoting stability, peace and harmony in Afghanistan."
The statement noted that a trilateral meeting of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States was scheduled to be held in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, early next month, with the purpose of having "strategic coherence and clarity."
Stepping back, the jockeying seems reminiscent of the 19th-century Great Game days when larger powers sought to claim and influence Afghanistan. Then, Russia and England were vying for power. Today there are many more geopolitical actors: the United States, China, Iran, Russia, India and above all Pakistan, with which Afghanistan has close ties and deep enmities.
Pakistan, more than any other country, has leverage over Afghanistan's future because so much support for the insurgency in Afghanistan emanates from Pakistan's tribal areas and because Afghanistan is landlocked and will always be reliant on Pakistan for supplies. If the Pakistani government moved decisively to halt the insurgent activity, the war in Afghanistan would be greatly diminished.
For now the Afghan government is weighing the Pakistani requests, according to people close to the government and to its opponents. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a onetime presidential opponent of President Hamid Karzai, who served as Afghanistan's foreign minister and has been allied with the United States, said he saw this as a moment when Afghanistan was faced with a choice about which way to go. He said that he had some knowledge of what was discussed at the meeting and that the Pakistanis had brought a document with them that outlined their thinking.
"They said that the goals of the United States are confusing and uncertain, the American force is not reliable, and their power is not a reliable power," Dr. Abdullah said.
That perspective is influenced heavily by Pakistan's increasingly negative view of the United States, said Mr. Abdullah a point echoed by other officials knowledgeable about the meeting.
"One of the schools of thought in the Pakistani establishment is that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is not for the stabilization of Afghanistan, but is for seizing Pakistan's nuclear assets in due time," Mr. Abdullah said.
However, the critical question for Afghanistan is what would it get out of closer ties with Pakistan and more distance from the United States, he said. "They have failed to recognize Afghanistan as a sovereign country," he said, referring to Pakistani government officials. "They still consider it as their back yard."
"There isn't anything in it for Afghanistan," he added. "It doesn't talk about the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, so it's like giving Pakistan a protectorate role vis-à-vis Afghanistan," he said.
People close to the talks said Mr. Karzai was considering Pakistan's points carefully, but had not yet committed to most of them and viewed them with caution because of Pakistan's long history of destabilizing Afghanistan through its support for the Taliban.
"The discussions were a good start; there are many issues to be discussed," said an official close to the talks. "Of course it's a long way to go because in terms of our past experience with Pakistan, we would need to see some serious, pragmatic steps."