KARACHI: The departure of NATO combat forces from Afghanistan could push India and Pakistan towards a proxy war in the troubled state, Pakistan's former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf warned in an interview with news agency AFP.
As Pakistan's ruler, Mr Musharraf was a key US ally in its "war on terror", but he now lives under tight security in his Karachi home, facing Taliban death threats and a litany of criminal cases dating back to his near decade-long rule that ended in 2008.
The 71-year-old - who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 - praised new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who made his first official trip to Pakistan last week in a bid to reset fractious ties with Islamabad.
Pakistan's support is seen as crucial to Afghan peace as US-led forces pull out by the end of this year after 13 years battling the Taliban.
But the former strongman said calming tension between India and Pakistan - running high at the moment after some of the worst cross-border firing in years - is key to peace in Afghanistan.
"That is another danger for the whole region and for Pakistan because Indian involvement there has an anti-Pakistan connotation. They (India) want to create an anti-Pakistan Afghanistan," he said at his house in Karachi.
India and Pakistan have long accused each other of using proxy forces to try to gain influence in Afghanistan.
"If Indians are using some elements of the ethnic entities in Afghanistan, then Pakistan will use its own support for ethnic elements, and our ethnic elements are certainly Pashtuns," Mr Musharraf said.
"So we are initiating a proxy war in Afghanistan. This must be avoided."
Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai routinely accused Pakistan of secretly backing the Taliban as a hedge against Indian influence in his country.
Pakistan denies the accusation, though it was one of only three countries to officially recognise the Afghan Taliban regime, in power from 1996 until 2001 when the US-led invasion resulted in its overthrow.
Mr Musharraf warned that regional rivalries could flourish again once NATO's 34,000-strong combat contingent leaves by the end of next month.
"When there is an absence of all these forces, then yes there would be a vacuum... in that case there can be more serious repercussion," he said.
Mr Musharraf's home in a well-heeled Karachi neighbourhood is decked with photos of him with world leaders, but his dreams of a triumphant homecoming last year were dashed amid allegations of treason and murder.
He came back to Pakistan in March 2013 after four years of self-imposed exile to run in the May general election, vowing to "save" the country from Taliban violence and economic ruin.
But he was barred from running in the election, and was then put under house arrest and hit with numerous criminal cases -- including treason, the first former army chief to face the charge.