(Washington, DC--September 20, 2002) Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah discussed a range of topics, from domestic Afghan politics to the possibility of war in Iraq, during a briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office on September 18.
Addressing skeptics in the international community, Abdullah said that Afghanistan is a good example of the success of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. According to the Afghan diplomat, the defeat of the Taliban and the rout of Al Qaeda not only saved Afghan society from destruction and tyranny, but also helped prevent the spread of Osama bin Laden's brand of fundamentalist terrorism throughout the region and the world. In Abdullah's words, "When it is judged that this campaign against terror is not successful, I think it is once again underestimating the big job which has been done by the people of Afghanistan, as well as by the coalition forces." Nevertheless, Abdullah said terrorism has not been eradicated in Afghanistan.
Abdullah urged the international community not to waver in its support of reconstruction, and he reiterated a call for faster disbursement of the aid pledged by the international community. Abdullah said that of the $4.5 billion pledged to Afghanistan, the country has received only about $500 million. Of that, he said, $200 million has gone to humanitarian needs and $100 million to government expenses, leaving only $200 million to pay for reconstruction.
Asked if the Loya Jirga in June 2002 that elected his transitional government had merely produced an alliance among warlords and the new leaders in Kabul, Abdullah acknowledged that the process was imperfect. Nevertheless, he said, the Loya Jirga was an amazing feat for a nation plagued by 23 years of war: "[The Loya Jirga] was the start of a situation where somebody, which you call a warlord, a leader of a [political] party, sitting beside a carpenter, an ordinary man, a schoolmaster, and going out with a feeling that the rules of the game in Afghanistan have changed and have changed forever. That's what happened in the Loya Jirga."
The challenge now, Abdullah said, is to keep the warlords loyal to Kabul while improving living conditions in their poverty-stricken regions. Only that way, he said, will Afghanistan consolidate its recent progress, eradicate terrorism for good, and reduce instability.
Abdullah appeared to dismiss concerns that a possible U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq would deflect international attention from Afghanistan. He said U.S. officials have assured him that the anti-terrorism campaign in his country will continue at roughly the same level, even if Washington launches a military attack against Iraq. The Afghan Foreign Minister also addressed his government's long-standing request that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) be expanded into provincial areas to deal with crime and civil unrest there, noting that the international community is beginning to see the need for an expanded ISAF.