ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai, re-elected a week ago after a flawed vote, appealed Monday for closer trade ties with fellow Muslim countries to help Afghanistan break its cycle of conflict.
Karzai met representatives of eight governments, including Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the sidelines of an economic summit held by the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Istanbul.
“Afghanistan’s interest is primarily in having close brotherly relations with its neighbors, freedom of trade and transit, and an effective environment of cooperation,” he told a breakfast meeting before the formal opening of the summit.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official said there would be a follow-up conference on Afghanistan in the near future, which Turkey had offered to host.
Most trade with landlocked Afghanistan passes through the conflict-ridden border with Pakistan and through Iran.
The widespread fraud reported during the election and his chief rival’s refusal to contest a run-off have damaged Karzai’s credibility at the start of his second term.
Karzai was seen as a guarantor of Western aid when he was first elected in 2004 but his relations with the United States and other Western allies have become strained by allegations of corruption and misgovernance.
His popularity has dwindled as many ordinary Afghans believe they have not benefited from billions of dollars in aid.
A growing Taliban insurgency has contributed to Afghans’ sense of insecurity, with civilian casualties caused by Western forces backing Karzai’s government adding to their resentment.
Turkey has troops serving with NATO forces in Afghanistan and Gul sought to rally support for the mission to stabilize Afghanistan and eradicate groups such as al Qaeda.
“We are there to stop the threat of terrorism to the entire region and the world,,” Gul said.
Afghanistan would need foreign military and economic support until Afghans were trained and equipped to look after their own security.
“As stakeholders in the region, we cannot expect that the United States and other Western powers solve the problems by themselves. We should shoulder our responsibilities,” Gul said.
The Turkish president expressed support for Karzai’s efforts to unite the country after the bitterly fought election.
“I am confident that the focus in the short term will be on the establishment as soon as possible of a government that would pull the country back together and embrace every corner of Afghanistan and every segment of Afghan society. This is urgently needed after a long election process.”
Additional reporting by Ibon Villelabeitia; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Angus MacSwan