March 23, 2010 / 3:35 PM / 10 years ago

Muslim body warns against hasty Afghanistan pullout

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The head of a major Muslim body said on Tuesday any hasty Western troop withdrawal from Afghanistan could have dire consequences.

U.S. soldiers prepare to fly while standing next to a CH-53 helicopter in Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, March 22, 2010. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

The United States is deploying 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan this year in an effort to turn the tide against a growing Taliban insurgency.

Washington plans to start withdrawing by mid-2011, making this year a critical period for the outcome of the 8-year-old war.

NATO allies have pledged to add to their contingents. But two of the biggest, the Netherlands and Canada, have announced plans to withdraw their combined 5,000 troops in 2010 and 2011.

“There should be careful calculations of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan,” Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), told a news conference in Islamabad.

His call for caution comes at a critical time.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office said on Monday he had held his first direct talks in Kabul with a senior delegation from Hezb-i-Islami, one of the three main insurgent groups in the country and rivals to the Taliban.

The meeting was an unprecedented success in Karzai’s efforts to reach out to insurgents this year.

The Saudi-based OIC, comprised of 57 Muslim states, has sought to play a bigger role in solving Muslim crises through debate among various branches of Islam.

After supporting Afghan Mujahideen in their battle against Soviet occupation in the 1980s, U.S. interest in Afghanistan faded, leaving the country to explode into civil war.

“We should not create a post-Soviet example once again. We should be careful (about withdrawing) and that should be with an agreement with people of Afghanistan and all stakeholders,” said Ihsanoglu, who met Pakistani officials during a visit here.

“Otherwise that will lead to another civil war and we should avoid that.”

Karzai has appealed for closer trade ties with fellow Muslim countries to help Afghanistan break its cycle of conflict.

Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Alex Richardson

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