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Afghan Foreign Minister Urges Continued US Engagement


Afghanistan's foreign minister says his nation has emerged from a dark era and stands ready to embrace a hopeful future, with continued U.S. military and economic assistance.

Abdullah Abdullah spoke during an official visit begun earlier this week with President Hamid Karzai.

Addressing U.S. officials, academics and reporters, Minister Abdullah delivered a history lesson. He said the international community abandoned Afghanistan after the end of Soviet occupation in the late 1980s, with tragic consequences. He said his nation became a terrorist haven, which brought pain to its own people, the region and the international community, including the United States.

"All this led to the situation and events of September 11 [2001] and too many other tragedies that followed. But what is needed in Afghanistan [today] is the continued commitment from the international community for supporting Afghanistan in the way ahead, in the days and years to come," he noted.

The minister said his government's priorities are reconstruction, security, and strengthening democracy. He said many challenges lie ahead, but that they can be overcome with the help of nations like the United States that provide both troops and badly needed economic assistance.

Monday, President Hamid Karzai met with President Bush at the White House. Minister Abdullah described the encounter as fruitful, including the signing of a strategic partnership that commits the two countries to promoting peace and democracy.

But tensions have arisen between the two nations in recent months. U.S. officials have been quoted as saying they do not believe Afghanistan is doing enough to halt the cultivation of poppies, used to make heroin. For his part, President Karzai said he was sad to learn of U.S. abuses of prisoners from Afghanistan and elsewhere, but added he does not believe that individual acts of malice are reflective of the United States as a whole.

Minister Abdullah acknowledged that violent passions in his nation were stoked by a report of desecration of the Koran at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a report since retracted by Newsweek magazine which published it. But he was quick to add that there is another side to the story.

"Among the people of Afghanistan there is a broad understanding and a broad belief that there is a need for the presence of the foreign forces in Afghanistan for a long time to come. They see, they see it with their own eyes. They complain, as human beings [do]. There is a free environment, and if there are things they do not like they complain, they criticize. But that is another aspect [of democracy]," he added.

Minister Abdullah added that a distinction must be drawn between ordinary Afghans who react with fervor to the news as it reaches them, and those who organize and instigate violent demonstrations for their own political purposes.

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