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Afghan Foreign Minister Hopes New Constitution Will Be Ratified Soon - 2003-11-13

Afghanistan's foreign minister says he hopes his country will have its constitution ratified in the coming weeks. But he warns there are heightened security threats that could destabilize Afghanistan's moves toward democracy.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah says his country's Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, is set to meet December 10, and lawmakers should approve the new constitution soon after that.

"The Loya Jirga might take a few days, like 10 days perhaps, to give the opportunity for the representatives to discuss it and to ratify it. So by the end of December we are hoping to have our constitution finalized," he said.

He said during a speech in Washington, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, that the interim government has distributed thousands of copies of the draft document to people throughout Afghanistan. He also said voter registration will begin within the next two weeks so the country will be ready for elections in 2004.

But Dr. Abdullah says Taleban and al-Qaida remnants in and outside of the country continue to pose the biggest threat to Afghan progress.

"It is a fact that Taleban are receiving some support from groups, from individuals, whatever it is, outside Afghanistan... Where are these people coming from? Where are they getting their munitions? This has been one of the challenges of our foreign policy as well as our government as a whole," he said.

Foreign Minister Abdullah also discussed what he called another security issue with "major destabilizing potential" - the narcotics trade.

"It can threaten the whole process, every aspect of the process - reconstruction, political, gender, elections, stability, security and so on and so forth," he said. "When one looks at the links between terrorism and narcomafia, it becomes a more imminent threat."

He said his country needs to focus more attention on combating what he called "the drug menace."

Earlier this week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai warned his country to expect more terror attacks as democracy moves forward. And the U.N. Security Council says Afghanistan is entering the most crucial phase of the peace process.

The fragile situation was shown by an attack that injured two people Tuesday near a U.N. building in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

But the foreign minister says Afghans appreciate the opportunity they have been given to establish a democratic system and live at peace with each other and their neighbors.