Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, concluded Friday a two-day visit to France, where he received pledges to help rebuild the country's army and police force - and its cultural heritage.
The French government used the visit of Afghan leader Hamid Karzai to announce millions of dollars in new aid for Afghanistan to help train its police force and two infantry battalions. Paris also backs a proposal to extend the stay of a multinational peace-keeping force in Afghanistan.
But both President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who met with Mr. Karzai Thursday, said they opposed the idea of extending the force's presence to regions outside Kabul, the country's capital. The idea is currently under consideration by the international community.
Speaking to reporters in Paris Friday afternoon, Mr. Karzai said he had asked Turkey to head a U.N.-mandated multinational security force. But he stressed the force would primarily serve to reassure ordinary Afghans, while rejecting reports of new fighting and insecurity in Afghanistan. "This is done," he said, "as a guarantee of the commitment of the international community to stay committed to Afghanistan, so Afghanistan will not be interfered with or troubled again, like it was in the past."
Mr. Karzai's visit also had a cultural aspect to it - Paris has opened a new show featuring Afghan art. Earlier Friday, Mr. Karzai also held talks with the Koichiro Matsuura, the head of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Culture Organization, about making several ancient Afghan sites special U.N. cultural heritage sites.
The plight of Afghanistan's rich cultural heritage captured international attention last year, when the Taleban militia demolished two fifth-century Buddha statues. "We have not yet reconciled ourselves really with the loss of the Buddha statues," said Mr. Karzai. "It's something that we will never forget."
Nonetheless, Mr. Karzai said, the country was moving on. The government has plans to restore the Kabul museum, and has already opened the city's music conservatory.
Mr. Karzai was also asked about another key subject, the under-representation of Afghan women in the interim government and in the workforce. He said that was changing, and that women's voices would be heard in an upcoming loya jirga, or grand council of Afghan leaders, to form a new government for the country.