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U.S./Afghanistan: Rice Hails Afghanistan's 'March Toward Democracy'

During talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other officials today, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated the United States' long-term commitment to Afghanistan and praised the country's recent parliamentary vote.

Prague, 12 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said her second trip to Afghanistan comes at a time of great promises and hope for the country.

"Afghanistan is now inspiring the world with its march toward democracy, with the successful presidential elections that brought you [Karzai], the first elected president to Afghanistan, and then the parliament that has just been elected," Rice said. "And in both cases, we recognize that the foundation is being laid for a strong and democratic Afghanistan."

Rice said that she and Karzai had discussed Afghanistan’s progress toward democracy, the challenges still facing the country, and the state of bilateral relations.

"We talked also about the importance of Afghanistan in this region -- where Afghanistan was once a land bridge for the entire region -- and the need to rebuild regional economic ties," Rice said. "We talked also about the challenges -- as you said, Mr. President -- of narcotics, and your great desire to have Afghanistan rid of it. We, with our lead partner the British, have been very involved in that effort, and we will redouble our efforts.”

Rice also reiterated Washington's commitment to a long-term relationship with Afghanistan and said that her country will assist Kabul as long as such help is necessary.

"The Afghan people have a long-term partner in the United States," Rice said. "We are not going to leave, as we once did. It was a mistake for us, it was a mistake for the Afghan people. And so you can count, Mr. President, on our continuing friendship, our long-term partnership, a relationship in terms of security cooperation and the fight to bring peace and stability to this region."

Rocket Attack

Hours before Rice's arrival, a rocket exploded outside the Kabul residence of the Canadian ambassador, wounding a guard. Another rocket landed near a government building, but reportedly did not cause any damage. No one has claimed responsibility for either attack.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Afghan Service, Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammad Yusef Stanizai blamed the attacks on the enemies of peace and stability.

"The enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan always try to disrupt the security situation in Kabul and elsewhere," Stanizai said. "They always make these failed attempts, but they have not been successful."

Attacks by Taliban militants have increased in the south and eastern regions of Afghanistan since the spring, causing the deaths of more than 1,300 people, many of them militants. In the latest violence, five Afghan aid workers and six policemen were killed today in separate attacks in Kandahar and southern Uruzgan Province.

Despite the reinvigoration of the insurgency, Rice told journalists today that the Taliban had not been able to disrupt the 18 September parliamentary elections and last November's presidential vote. "There are some remnants of the Taliban that continue to be able to pull off an attack here or there," she said. "But they have not been able to stop either of the elections that took place."

Karzai told Rice that he thinks the insurgents are receiving support from Afghanistan's booming drug trade.

(RFE/RL's Afghan Service/news agencies)

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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