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Afghan President Seeks Greater Pakistan Cooperation in Combating Terrorism - 2004-07-23

Afghan President Hamid Karzai travels to neighboring Pakistan early next week to discuss greater cooperation in combating terrorism. Mr. Karzai downplayed the Taleban insurgency in his country, but acknowledged Afghanistan will face security problems for some time to come.

President Karzai says anti-terrorism efforts are high on the agenda when he meets with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad.

"What Pakistan has done, so far, in the tribal territories of Pakistan is something we appreciate, we welcome," he said. "But, let us also hope that we can work in a more dedicated joint manner."

A U.S.-led war toppled Afghanistan's extremist Taleban rulers in 2001. Remnants of that regime and its al-Qaida allies are believed to be hiding in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border, and continue to mount deadly attacks in Afghanistan.

But, in an interview with VOA in Kabul on Friday, President Karzai described the insurgency as a manageable problem.

"It will not be a significant problem, as it is not now a significant problem," Mr. Karzai said. "In many instances, it is something that can be handled."

He added, however, that Afghans should expect security problems to continue well into the future.

"This is not going to be a one day or one month or one year operation," he said. "The stabilization process in Afghanistan will require many, many more years."

The Afghan president vowed that terror attacks would not derail his country's recovery from two decades of war.

While Mr. Karzai seemed to downplay the threat posed by the Taleban insurgents, he expressed deeper concern about a different security threat, one posed by local militias.

The Afghan government and its international partners are trying to disarm hundreds of militia forces.

But many militia leaders remain powerful. Some have been criticized as "warlords," who continue to rule de-facto independent mini-states.

The militia leaders have not been eager to give up their forces, and the disarmament program has fallen behind schedule, something Mr. Karzai described as one of the greatest regrets of his transitional administration.

"The progress toward disarmament has been very slow," he noted. "We have not been able to remove militia forces from the country that keep harassing our people, the Afghan people and I'm really upset about that."

Some militias have engaged in deadly factional fighting over the past two years. At least one militia leader, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, will challenge Mr. Karzai in the October presidential election.