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Afghan Foreign Minister Optimistic About Future of His Nation - 2002-10-18

Afghanistan's Foreign Minister says his country has evolved from being a threat to peace to one that will contribute to stability in the region. Speaking to an an audience in Washington Thursday, foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah acknowledged the many challenges Afghanistan faces, but said he is optimistic about the future of his nation.

Foreign Minister Abdullah drew a sharp contrast between the situation in Afghanistan today and the one little more than a year ago, before the defeat of the Taleban and the weakening of al-Qaida. "I was also witness to the great potential for deterioration of the situation at that time, for the menace of terrorism, turning into a menace which could not be controlled," he said. "They were just about to spread their grip throughout the region before September 11."

Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-governmental foreign policy research organization, Mr. Abdullah said the Afghan government has had to build a society from, in his words, "below zero."

Nevertheless, Mr. Abdullah pointed to progress in the past year, including the rebuilding taking place in Kabul, the increase in trade throughout the country and the return of 1.6 million refugees to Afghanistan. This year, he said, three million Afghan children, including girls, attended school. The foreign minister said the Loya Jirga, the council that approved the country's transitional government, was another success, as was the recent introduction of a national currency.

While security has improved, the foreign minister said there have been serious setbacks, including the recent assassination attempt against Afghan President Hammed Karzai. He said the country lacks basic security infrastructure. "We are talking about the security in a country that hasn't got a national police force," he said. "It hasn't got a national army yet, and other security institutions. But still, the highways are secure, the cities are secure, terrorists are terrorists, they can pose threats everywhere, they can create problems everywhere, and they have created some problems in our country as well."

Another problem in Afghanistan, he acknowledged, is narcotics, the country remains the world's top opium producer. "The farmers make more money by cultivating opium than any other crop. This happens in a country which is ruined as a result of 23 years of war and lawlessness and so on and so forth," he said. "Then, there are local authorities which make benefit from it, then they are linked to drug mafia in the country and the region."

Mr. Abdullah said the government is taking steps to crack down on opium, and he added Afghanistan needs international help to do so.