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Afghanistan: Rice Holds Talks On Drugs, Terrorism, Reconstruction

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks in Kabul on 17 March with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other senior Afghan government officials. The talks reportedly focused on the fight against the drug trade, Afghan reconstruction, and the war on terrorism.

Prague, 17 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- During her first visit to Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated U.S. support for the war-torn country.

"We have a long-term commitment to this country," Rice said. "We learned the hard way what it meant to not have a long-term commitment when, after the Soviet Union left, I think it is well understood that we did not remain committed. And I said to the president [Karzai] earlier that, in many ways, [the attacks of] September 11th [2001] was a joint tragedy of the Afghan and the American people out of that period."

In a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Rice said the story of the Afghan people serves as an inspiration for the world.

"I want to say to the Afghan people that their story here of coming out of years of civil war and turmoil and difficulty and going to vote and to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic enterprise has, indeed, been an inspiration to people all over the world," Rice said.

Afghanistan held its first direct presidential election last fall. Karzai said on 17 March that the country's Electoral Commission has decided to hold parliamentary polls in September. The elections date have been repeatedly postponed due to logistics and security concerns.

Karzai thanked the United States for its support for Afghanistan, and singled out Rice for special mention.

"We discussed among ourselves the progress that Afghanistan has made with the help of the United States and, particularly, with help from Dr. Rice, because she was there from the first day of the liberation of Afghanistan until today, on a daily basis, following the progress of Afghanistan," Karzai said. "We are thankful to her for all her support and dedication to our country."

A few hours after Rice's arrival in Kabul, five people were killed and more than 30 injured in two bomb blasts in the southern city of Kandahar. Afghan officials blamed the attack on Taliban militants.

Karzai told reporters in Kabul that the security situation will improve with "the increasing capacity of the Afghan state in policing, in intelligence gathering, and in delivering better services."

Karzai added: "On the question of violence in Afghanistan, I believe, if you look at the trend, compare us with last year, compare last year with the year before. Afghanistan is, at present, right now, very fortunately among the less violent states in this part of the world."

Currently, some 17,000 U.S. troops are fighting against the remnants of the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan -- mostly in the southern and eastern parts of the country.

Rice, who met earlier with U.S. military officials stationed in Afghanistan, praised Afghan efforts in the war against terrorism. "We are great allies now in the war on terror," she said. "This country was once a source of terrorism. It is now a steadfast fighter against terrorism."

The U.S. State Department warns, however, that Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a narco-state, which it says represents "an enormous threat to world stability."

Afghanistan is Rice's third stop on a six-nation Asian trip. She is due to return to Islamabad later on 17 March for more talks with Pakistani officials.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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