Pulling Western troops out of Afghanistan will condemn mothers and children to suffer, a leading Afghan women's advocate has warned.
Sakena Yacoobi said yesterday that foreign soldiers - including from Australia - were needed for at least another five years in a conflict where extremists deliberately poison the drinking water at schools to scare away children.
''The women of Afghanistan completely depend on the NATO allies,'' Dr Yacoobi told The Age in Melbourne yesterday. ''At this moment, I think it would be unfair for the people of Afghanistan - especially for the women and children, who have been suffering for 20 and 30 years - to just leave them and walk out. As soon as allied soldiers walk out and leave Afghanistan, the first blood shed will be women and children.''
Dr Yacoobi runs an organisation working with women to improve health and education in seven Afghan provinces. She ran underground schools for girls in the 1990s when the Taliban ruled much of the country.
Her plea for a sustained international presence comes after the 21st Australian soldier was killed in Afghanistan last week, sparking debate over the nearly nine year war.
The Greens have called for a debate in Parliament on Australia's troop deployment. Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said yesterday peace in Afghanistan was only possible once Western troops had withdrawn, but indicated the conflict would not be a sticking point in negotiations to form a new government.
Dr Yacoobi said security in Afghanistan had deteriorated but insisted progress was being made.
''For years and years, women of Afghanistan have been abused and are very submissive,'' she said. ''But in reality, the women of Afghanistan are very intelligent - brilliant.
''Once you give them opportunity…people are more responsible, they are taking action and trying to solve problems on their own.''
Dr Yacoobi is visiting Melbourne for a United Nations summit on global health and will give a keynote speech today at the opening of the conference.
Her organisation, Afghan Institute of Learning, teaches women about basic hygiene, coping with complications from childbirth, and how to run a small business, such as embroidery or carpet weaving.
The aim is to help Afghan women better understand their rights to protect themselves and strengthen families.
''It's a reality, when you have money you have power,'' she said.