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Italy FM says West must not 'do like Russians' in Afghanistan

world Updated: Aug 19, 2009 22:56 IST
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini warned in an interview on Wednesday that Western powers should not "do like the Russians" and leave Afghanistan to the Taliban after this week's elections.

"There remains much to do and that is why it is unrealistic to talk about leaving the country tomorrow," he told La Stampa newspaper ahead of Thursday's presidential vote.

"That would be to do like the Russians, who exited the country and left it to the Taliban." Soviet forces fought a nearly 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended in 1989.

The war, which cost more than 13,000 Soviet lives and may have killed as many as one million Afghans, led to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Islamist Taliban.

Frattini, whose country has some 3,250 troops serving with NATO in the country, said the Western military alliance faces "its most important credibility test since the end of the Cold War" in the conflict.

"We have taken a commitment and we cannot abandon it", he said, adding that Afghanistan was at the top of Italy's foreign policy priorities.

Violence has threatened to disrupt Thursday's landmark vote.

On Wednesday, security forces fanned out on high alert in a bid to protect Kabul from a spike in Taliban violence, after two suicide attacks and rocket strikes on the relatively peaceful city.

The violence was "foreseeable and foreseen," Frattini said, adding that "what (the Taliban) fear the most is a credible and strong Afghan government, able to launch reconciliation."

He said they fear a new leadership "capable of distinguishing... between Taliban who answer to local tribal groups and who may therefore probably be brought back to lawfulness and those tied to Al-Qaeda."

The foreign minister stressed that Western powers did not have a preferred candidate, saying "we want a president that the Afghans want."

He also warned that the favourite to win, incumbent President Hamid Karzai, does not have a "blank cheque". "It is only in the light of the electoral results that we can carry out a new evaluation (of the military strategy)," Frattini said.

Frattini said he would ask the new government to establish a "turning point: a 100-day plan that will give the Afghan people a signal of immediate change."

He added that human rights should top the agenda. "The awful law that subjugates women must be annulled, as we have asked Karzai, and we will come back and ask the new president."