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Malaysia, Indonesia ready to send troops

By Michael Richardson

(CNN) -- Indonesia and Malaysia, which account for more than 20 percent of the world's Muslims, have indicated their readiness to play a prominent role in stabilizing Afghanistan.

The pledge to provide peacekeeping troops comes as the United Nations intensifies moves to bring political stability to Afghanistan following the sudden collapse of Taliban rule.

The Indonesian security chief Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Monday that the government and the military believed that as the country with more Muslims than any other, Indonesia should help Afghanistan by sending peacekeepers.

A military spokesman in Jakarta said that a unit of between 700 and 1,000 soldiers was being readied to leave for Afghanistan whenever the UN asks.

Malaysia, too, has indicated it is ready to contribute troops if requested by the UN.

But Indonesia and Malaysia are insisting that the planned multinational force for Afghanistan must be under UN, not United States or Western control.

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The force would ensure that no single Afghan faction can monopolize power in major cities, especially the capital Kabul. It would pave the way for a broad-based provisional government of Afghanistan to be installed.

Susilo, a retired general, said that Indonesian involvement was conditional on the peacekeeping force being "under the coordination of the United Nations."

Indonesia and Malaysia both have moderate, secular governments that condemn terrorism and regard Islamic extremism as a threat to their power.

They want to undercut domestic extremists by contributing to peace in Afghanistan. U.N. officials envision the planned multinational force being led by Turkey and supplemented by troops from other Muslim countries including Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh.

But Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur do not want their participation in the planned multinational force to be compromised by too close an association with the U.S. and the West, hence the importance of U.N. control.

The Indonesian and Malaysian governments opposed US bombing of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan after hardliners at home tried to exploit public concerns about the military operations.

By contributing to a Muslim-led UN force for Afghanistan, Indonesia and Malaysia calculate that they can reconcile their differences with the U.S. -- a key source of aid and investment -- while outflanking Islamic militants at home.

Indonesia, with 88 percent of its 228 million people followers of Islam, is home to the world's largest Muslim population.


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