Afghan finance minister rejects civil war 'doomsday' scenario

Afghan finance minister rejects civil war 'doomsday' scenario

NEW DELHI - Afghanistan's finance minister on Monday rejected "doomsday" predictions that the impoverished country would plunge back into civil war when the bulk of US-led troops leave.

Many international observers have voiced fears Afghanistan could descend into civil war after the 2014 exit of Western combat forces - similar to the conflict the country experienced in the 1990s.

But Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal told a business audience in the Indian capital that "the doomsday analysis in which ethnically-based political factions in Afghanistan will descend into civil war" was unfounded.

These predictions will "be proved wrong", Zakhilwal told the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Next April's presidential elections "will be held on time - they are not going to lead to crisis, the Afghan people will accept as president whoever gets a majority of votes", Zakhilwal said.

"There will be no civil war," Zakhilwal said as he pitched for foreign investment in the landlocked nation at a conference on "Doing Business With Afghanistan".

The presidential elections are seen as laying the base for a future Afghanistan as the United States and other Western nations wind down their military commitment but the political process has been fraught with discord.

President Hamid Karzai, accused by opponents of widespread corruption, is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Most of NATO's tens of thousands of troops are due to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and a credible election is seen as vital to stability in Afghanistan's first-ever democratic power transfer.

Meanwhile, overshadowing the recent announcement of 10 presidential candidates is next week's "loya jirga" or grand assembly of tribal elders, which will decide on a crucial security pact with the United States.

If the agreement is passed, up to 10,000 US troops will stay in Afghanistan to help fight Al-Qaeda remnants and train the national army.

There are fears if a deal is not reached - the legal status of US forces is a major sticking point - all American troops will pull out and local forces will struggle to contain the Taliban.

Under this so-called "zero option" scenario, whoever emerges winner after the April 5 polls will face a much stiffer task in maintaining Afghanistan's fragile stability.

However, Zakhilwal said Afghan security forces were more than capable of ensuring peace in the country.

"Wherever international forces have withdrawn and Afghan forces taken over, not only they have maintained the security, they have improved upon the security," he said.

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