Russians, Afghans reach defense pact
KABUL, Afghanistan - Russia is ready to cooperate on defense matters with Afghanistan, the Afghan president said yesterday. The announcement coincides with increasingly public tensions between Afghan and Western officials, as well as Russia's heightened efforts to assert itself on the international stage.
In a letter, President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia said cooperation on defense issues would "be effective for both countries and also effective for maintaining security in the region," President Hamid Karzai's office said in a statement.
"As a friendly government to Afghanistan, Russia is ready to offer its cooperation to an independent and a democratic Afghanistan," the statement quoted Medvedev as saying.
The statement did not say how the two countries would cooperate, but historically they have been at odds. Russian soldiers were part of the Soviet Army that occupied Afghanistan throughout the 1980s, before being forced to withdraw in 1989 after years of a US-supported insurgency that drained Soviet resources and contributed to the country's collapse.
Moscow has little to gain if the United States and NATO fail to defeat the Taliban and install a strong Afghan government, and says it wants stability in Afghanistan. The relationship between NATO and Russia has been delicate, but Russia in November allowed Spain and Germany to use Russian rail lines to ship supplies for forces in Afghanistan.
General David Petraeus, chief of the US Central Command, said yesterday that the United States has secured agreements to transport troop equipment through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia.
Russia is also eager to boost its arms sales, raise its global profile, and boost its prestige.
The correspondence from Karzai - on the eve of US President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration - comes as Afghan officials fight criticism that Karzai's government is weak and corrupt.
The United States has said it will send up to 30,000 troops into Afghanistan in 2009, including 3,000 forces in two provinces adjacent to Kabul, where militants have free rein. The United States has about 32,000 troops in Afghanistan.
US Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton recently used the term "narco state" to describe Afghanistan in written Senate testimony, words that drew the ire of Afghan officials. Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said over the weekend that the use of the term was "absolutely wrong" and suggested the drug trade in the country's south was a result of the NATO forces there.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer wrote in an opinion column Sunday that the West has paid enough in blood and money "to demand that the Afghan government take more concrete and vigorous action to root out corruption and increase efficiency."