ALMATY, Kazakhstan - Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev yesterday hosted a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Almaty, following a conference earlier in the day at which leaders of the Muslim republics of central Asia called for the creation of an international "forum for peace and stability" to develop inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue among nations.

In a "joint declaration towards peace and accord," the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajekistan and representatives of Afghanistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan said they "absolutely and unconditionally condemned terrorism in all its forms, irrespective of motivation."

Promoting dialogue

Nazarbaev, who is hosting the conference, said that Kazakhstan and central Asia as a whole could lead the world in a vitally urgent effort to bring inter-religious dialogue, and thereby fight terrorism and extremism.

The Afghan delegate said his own country had been "subjected to a reign of terror" and had become the nest from which terrorism struck at the wider world. He went on to say that the object of international efforts today must be to prevent terrorism from taking hold of any other country. He said that Afghanistan was wholly committed to the joint declaration which determines that "terrorism and extremism have nothing in common with world religions... Islam regards a human life as the greatest value and as a divine gift whose forced deprivation is considered the greatest crime."

The muftis of all Muslim countries taking part in the conference were among the conferees who unanimously adopted the joint declaration.

The looming war in Iraq hung over the conference proceedings: Several statesman voiced the hope that the crisis could yet be resolved by diplomatic means, though it was clear that at the moment of reckoning these Central Asian countries would side with the U.S.

The Afghan delegate, speaking separately to Haaretz, said he hoped the U.S. had thought through its steps beyond a military campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime. He recalled how Hamad Karzai had evolved as the post-Taliban leader of Afghanistan, having first been acclaimed at an assembly of opposition leaders held in Germany before the fighting was over. Maroofi Mohammad Yahya maintains that even the humblest, illiterate Afghani peasant was deeply involved in the national process today of building constitutional democracy. "They know what they've been through and they know what the way forward is," he said.

The Afghani statesman, who spent the Taliban years as a United Nations diplomat in Geneva, said it was natural for Kazakhstan to have invited Afghanistan to this conference, "as we are the people who have suffered so much from terrorism." He declined, however, to consider whether his country would have participated had Israel been invited alongside the American Jewish leadership.

Mortimer Zuckerman, speaking as Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said Israel today was defending itself against extremism and terrorism.

Responding to cautions by several of the central Asian statesman that terrorism was not to be viewed as an integral part of Islam, Zuckerman admitted that in the initial post-September 11 period, the war against terrorism "did come across with a religious dimension."

But it was now clear to all, he added, that terror is not limited to any religion and every religion can be the victim of it.