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Afghanistan: Foreign Minister Cautions Against Drawdown At Central Asian Bases

Foreign Minister Abdullah (file photo) Afghanistan's foreign minister is urging members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) not to weaken support for his country's stabilization efforts. Abdullah Abdullah said that, despite a recent communique, the SCO should recognize the importance of maintaining a robust international military presence in Afghanistan. Separately, the country’s women’s affairs minister said the new parliament offers hope for lifting Afghan women out of poverty and a culture of violence.

Washington, 18 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah says the battle against extremists in Afghanistan should remain a top concern to its neighbors in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Abdullah told a news briefing at RFE/RL in Washington yesterday that now is not the time to consider reducing the number of international coalition forces waging the antiterrorism campaign in his country.

"The war against terrorism in Afghanistan is an ongoing process," Abdullah said. "Despite all the achievements, it has not come to an end. And friendly countries to Afghanistan should realize that it's a contribution to stability in the whole region. It's not just for Afghanistan."
"Friendly countries to Afghanistan should realize that it's a contribution to stability in the whole region. It's not just for Afghanistan." -- Abdullah

In July, the SCO issued a communique calling on Washington to set a timeline for withdrawing from military bases in Central Asia. It suggested there is a declining need for combat operations against the Taliban. The SCO comprises Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan (see "SCO -- Shoring Up The Post-Soviet Status Quo").

Uzbekistan has since called on U.S. forces to vacate a base in its country. But Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan continue to permit coalition military operations on their territory. Last week, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev affirmed that U.S. forces can stay at the Manas air base as long as the situation in Afghanistan requires (see "Bishkek Assures Rumsfeld That U.S. Air Base Can Stay").

Bakiev spoke at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was touring Afghanistan and three Central Asian states on a trip aimed at boosting democratic forces and underscoring the need to support the effort against Al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels in Afghanistan.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian television on 16 October that as soon as the terrorist threat starts to fade in Afghanistan, there will be no need for U.S. bases in Central Asia (see "Is Central Asian Turbulence Return Of The Great Game?").

But Abdullah said yesterday that the international community plays a vital role in preventing the return to power of Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements. “I hope that the understanding and the broad support for the coalition efforts in Afghanistan will [be] sustained and will be further strengthened rather than weakened," he said. "But one can see signs of different views on that which, hopefully, the United States -- as well as Afghanistan and the rest of the international community and our region -- will be able to work out.”

Addressing his country’s political transition, Abdullah said he does not expect incoming members of the country’s first elected parliament in more than 30 years to press for any sharp changes in foreign policy.

He said decrees from President Hamid Karzai will be reviewed by the parliament, such as the one dealing with Kabul's long-term strategic relationship with the United States. But Abdullah said he expects parliament to approve the country’s partnerships with the international community.

Afghanistan’s women’s affairs minister, Masuda Jalal, told the same briefing that September's parliamentary elections signaled a dramatic turning point for the welfare of women.

One-quarter of the 249 seats in parliament were reserved for female lawmakers. Jalal expressed hope that this will have an impact on the allocation of resources and services for the country’s women.

“It means that the policies, strategies, and plans and programs and activities of the government will be further gender-sensitized going ahead," Jalal said. "And further parliamentarians or the parliament as a whole will be impacting women’s life very positively, very positively. There are more than 68 women who will come to the parliament, and that is a good power.”

Afghan women suffer from some of the world’s highest levels of illiteracy, maternal mortality, and impoverishment. The country’s constitution says all Afghan citizens have equal rights and duties before the law. But Jalal said deep societal problems involving the abuse of women and girls still exist and must be overcome.

“Although we have the constitution, we have all sorts of violence going on against women and girls -- the forced marriages, the domestic violence, the early marriages, child marriage, the bad [settlement] of disputes by marrying of women and the exchanged marriage. All type[s] of violence [are] going on,” Jalal said.

Jalal added that access to legal services for women are very limited. She said it is essential for the international community to remain engaged in Afghanistan's political and economic reconstruction to help surmount the problems facing women.