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US Confident Afghan Election Can be Held on Schedule - 2004-01-09

The Bush administration says Afghanistan's first democratic election can still take place in about six months, despite concerns about delays in voter registration.

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan believes the election can take place on schedule. Zalmay Khalizad says steps need to be taken to increase the pace of voter registration, but adds the problem can be solved. "I'm not of the view at this point that elections can not take place this June or this summer," he said.

His words came as U.N. officials warned that the schedule for elections is threatened by voter registration delays resulting from ongoing violence.

When asked about the warning, the ambassador focused instead on the progress being made in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban regime. However, he acknowledged the needs of the Afghan people are great.

"And I have emphasized to them the U.S. commitment to be with them until they can stand on their own feet," he said. "And it will take sustained and substantial commitment by the United States and the international community to get Afghanistan to where it can stand on its own feet."

Ambassador Khalizad returned to Washington Wednesday night after Afghanistan's constitutional assembly approved a new constitution. The White House, which praised the work of the assembly, arranged a conference call the next day so he could speak to reporters.

Under questioning, he rejected the notion that the new Afghan constitution favors the Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group. He said it balances the rights of all Afghans.

"We have talked often about negative things in Afghanistan affecting other countries, having broader implications," he said. "I think this is a positive step in terms of recognition of rights of minorities which could also have positive effects with regard to other countries where they have minorities and their rights have not been adequately dealt with."

Ambassador Khalizad also said he welcomed a new offensive by Pakistan against suspected terrorists in a remote area along its border with Afghanistan. He said he hopes it will succeed in nabbing senior members of al-Qaida and the Taliban.