COPENHAGEN - NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday urged Muslim nations to contribute troops for service in Afghanistan to help avoid the appearance of a religious war.

Active participation by Muslim nations would underscore that NATO's effort in Afghanistan is not about religion, but a struggle against extremism and terror, Rasmussen said in an interview with the Danish daily newspaper Berlingske Tidende.

And so in talks with a number of Muslim nations I have encouraged them to consider positively a contribution to the mission in Afghanistan, said Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister who took over as NATO's top official in August 2009.

Rasmussen said he valued highly alliance member Turkey's contribution in Afghanistan. Predominantly Muslim Turkey has some 1,750 soldiers in and around Kabul as part of NATO's 85,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Rasmussen said other Muslim countries he had spoken with had not decided whether to participate but many had shown understanding of the matter.

Rasmussen's NATO appointment was opposed by some politicians in Turkey largely because of his role as prime minister during an international uproar in 2006 sparked by a Danish newspaper's publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in 2005.

Rasmussen said that since taking over as secretary-general he had formed good relations with Turkey and other Muslim states and the cartoon episode had had no effect on his current job.

Already on my first day as secretary-general, I made it clear that one of my priorities was to improve NATO's cooperation with countries in the Muslim world, Rasmussen said.

We have established the absolute best relations, and I have also received invitations to most Muslim countries, he added.

Rasmussen said he expected a NATO conference on Afghanistan later this month in London to renew the commitment between the international community and the Afghan government and reaffirm the alliance's intention to continue the effort in Afghanistan.
He said he also expected good governance from Afghan officials, including a fight against corruption and narcotics.

I expect President Karzai to put forward a plan for how he will live up to our expectations, Rasmussen said.

It is also important to reach an understanding between NATO and the Afghans on the requirements that must be fulfilled before we can hand over responsibility for security to the Afghans, he said.

Rasmussen said NATO has its hands full in Afghanistan and has no plans to launch missions against militant groups in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia.

We have enough to do in Afghanistan so NATO will not travel around from country to country hunting down terrorists.

(Reporting by John Acher; Editing by Matthew Jones)