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US Envoy Expresses Optimism about Afghanistan's Future

07 May 2007

The outgoing top U.S. official in Afghanistan, who has just completed his assignment there, says he thinks stability is still possible, despite ongoing violence linked to the resurgence of the Taleban and increased cultivation of opium poppies. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

Ambassador Ronald Neumann says he is more optimistic about prospects for Afghanistan now than when he took up his position in Kabul in 2005.

Speaking at the Middle East Institute in Washington Monday, he said in recent years, the people of Afghanistan have been working on establishing institutions of national government.

"Parliament, constitution, president, two elections, a constitutional assembly," he said. "Those were pretty significant, big achievements."

In response to a question about why Afghans would support the Taleban, he said the reasons are complex and varied.

"You had noticeably bad government in some areas of Afghanistan, which particularly alienated tribes," he said. "There are pieces that are ideological. There are pieces that overlay with the drug trade. There are pieces that overlay with tribal resentments, where one tribal group feels that another has, because of its government position, has victimized it and goes the other way."

On the issue of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, Neumann acknowledged that what he described as "massive production" in the south is still a big problem. But at the same time, he added that there have been small gains in northern Afghanistan, which has seen a reduction in poppy growth.

"Success is not guaranteed," he said. "It is simply that I would say to you that you can see a measure of progress and a way forward."

When asked about the future of NATO troops in Afghanistan, he acknowledged that there are what he described as "frictions" within NATO over burden-sharing. But he said overall, he believes the alliance will have the political will to remain in Afghanistan.

Thirty-seven countries have sent soldiers and personnel to the 32,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Neumann raised concerns that funding for U.S. operations in Afghanistan could "become a hostage to other questions," specifically the congressional debate over funding for the Iraq war.

He said he fears the spotlight on Iraq is overshadowing Afghanistan, which will need continued funding.

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