January 28, 2010 / 8:27 AM / 10 years ago

Uzbekistan says West should stop war in Afghanistan

* Uzbekistan says UN should lead Afghan efforts

* Is willing to help reconstruct southern neighbour

By Maria Golovnina

ALMATY, Jan 28 (Reuters) - The president of Uzbekistan, which shares a long border with Afghanistan, has urged the West to stop using military force in its fight against the Taliban and focus more on rebuilding the country’s shattered economy.

Uzbekistan’s support for U.S.-led military efforts in Afghanistan important because the country, like the rest of Central Asia, lies on a new supply route for NATO forces fighting a resurgent Taliban.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov addressed parliament on Wednesday and said military efforts had become largely useless. His speech was published on the official uza.uz website on Thursday.

"Over the past 30 years billions and billions have been spent to solve the Afghan problem," he said. "It looks obvious today that the entire approach has to be changed to settle the situation in this country."

He urged the United Nations to lead efforts to rebuild Afghanistan through peaceful methods.

"To bring peace and stability to the tormented Afghan land the international community should first of all focus on offering economic, financial, social and humanitarian aid and that has to be done under the auspices of the United Nations."

He made the remarks as ministers from some 60 countries were preparing to meet in London to hammer out a strategy to try to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan. [ID:nLDE60Q2TB]

Washington is sending an extra 30,000 troops there in the hopes of forcing hardline Islamists to negotiate in earnest.

Uzbeks form a considerable minority group in Afghanistan, particularly in its northern areas bordering Uzbekistan, a secular former Soviet republic which says that Islamist militancy is on the rise in resource-rich Central Asia.

Uzbekistan, still a Soviet-style society where no dissent is tolerated, is now keen to emerge from its long isolation and cooperate closer with the West over Afghanistan.

Lying on big gas reserves, Uzbekistan has already raised electricity exports to Afghanstan and started construction of a new railway connecting the Uzbek city of Termez, where Germany has a military base, with Mazar-i-Sharif.

Karimov said Afghan neighbours were particularly keen to take part in efforts to rebuild Afghanistan to avoid instability spilling over into the broader Central Asian region.

"Many countries are already offering Afghanistan such help," he said. "Of course its neighbouring nations are particularly interested in establishing its peace and stability." (Writing by Maria Golovnina; editing by Noah Barkin)

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