Christian Aid: Needs of Afghan People Must Not Be Forgotten

LONDON – U.K.-based Christian Aid has called on the international community to keep its focus on the needs of the Afghan people after weeks of rancor between Afghanistan and the United States.

Relations between the two countries hit a new low in recent weeks after Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai said he might join the Taliban and accused the West of committing fraud in the Afghan presidential election last year, which saw his re-election.

Up until last week, the White House had suggested that Karzai's comments could put a stop on his planned visit next month and that the U.S. Administration would seek to bypass Karzai and work directly with provincial governments.

This week, however, there was a marked softening in the U.S. Administration's tone after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Afghan President a "reliable partner" and dismissed claims that he was taking illegal drugs, saying that such claims were "unfortunate."

In its take on the spat between the two countries, Christian Aid said it was "extremely concerned," warning that it could hurt Afghanistan's poorest people.

"It is very important that President Obama continues to negotiate with the Afghan President to send a clear signal that the international community respects the democratic process," said Robin Greenwood, head of Christian Aid's Asia and Middle East Division.

"One of the best ways for the needs of the poorest in Afghanistan to be met is through participation in the democratic process. It is very important that the international community does not undermine this process."

Adding to that, Serena Di Matteo, Christian Aid's Country Director for Afghanistan, said the Afghan government and international community needed to work together in order for the needs of the poorest people to be heard.

She said tackling the acute poverty in Afghanistan had to be a "top priority" for the international community and the Afghan government at the upcoming "peace jirga" – or consultative assembly – and parliamentary elections.

"The human rights of all Afghans – rights to dignity, security and development – should be the paramount concern and should not be compromised, as part of the military campaign against the Taliban and its allies," Di Matteo said.

"It is inevitable that negotiations take place with the Taliban if a political solution is to be found," she added.

On May 2-4, the Afghan government will invite 1,200 to 1,400 people to Kabul for the "peace jirga" to discuss a framework for peace. The jirga is a traditional Afghan process for trying to arrive at a societal consensus.

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