In Prague for a series of meetings with European leaders as part of the Czech presidency of the European Union, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Saliha Ishaqzai Khalliqie that he rejects the idea that his country is now looking for new allies, He also insisted that relations with the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama are not strained.
RFE/RL: How do you see the change of government in Washington? Do you think that like the Bush administration, the Obama administration will also continue supporting the Hamid Karzai government, or will we see a change?
Rangin Dadfar Spanta: In countries [that are involved in Afghanistan], there is usually a convergence of views [about what is needed in our country]. And this includes the U.S. -- and they have a common approach regarding the campaign against terror and in providing aid to Afghanistan in three areas: security, development, and state-building.
Both the new and old [U.S.] administrations share a common understanding of these issues. There could be some differences and we hope we would sit and discuss them.
In our view, the fight against terrorism should largely take place outside Afghanistan. Terrorist centers situated outside Afghanistan should be dealt with. A process of Afghan-ization of the campaign against terror should take place. And this includes speeding up the process of training and expansion of the Afghan National Army, and the police needs to be strengthened. Civilian casualties should be decreased. These are issues we will discuss with the new administration.
RFE/RL: How do you see Obama's appointment of veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke as the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan?
Spanta: One of the main deficiencies -- which we have pointed out in our discussion with the international community -- is the lack of coordination in their policies toward Afghanistan. On the one hand, there is a lack of coordination between us and members of the international community, while on the other, it is also lacking among the members of the international community.
I think that the appointment of the special envoy is very important to bridge this coordination gap between Afghanistan and members of the international community, and in particular America is important -- because of its role as the leader of the war on terrorism.
On the other hand, terrorism is a regional issue and it is based outside the borders of Afghanistan. Without real and honest Pakistani cooperation in the war on terrorism, we cannot win against terrorism.
RFE/RL: So you think that so far Pakistani cooperation with Afghanistan in the war on terrorism was not honest and sufficient?
Spanta: We have good relations with the elected democratic [Pakistani] government under the leadership of President [Asif Ali] Zardari. We believe that the civilian government is determined in their struggle against extremism. And we have sincerely initiated good cooperation in that regard.
But it will take a long time before this government exerts its authority on everything. We and the civilian government in Pakistan are both victims of terrorism. And that's why we are both striving to wage a joint struggle against terrorism -- and those who support it.
RFE/RL: Many in Afghanistan are opposed to increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and even President Hamid Karzai has said that they should be deployed along the Pakistani border. Now that some 3,000 troops are deployed in the provinces of Wardak and Logar, what would you say about the issue?
Spanta: If the international community, America in particular, sends more troops, we truly welcome them. But [we would like to discuss] where these troops should be based, as is the norm among friends and allies that they consult each other -- and these forces should be sent to areas where they are needed.
I am happy to tell you that on the demands of the Afghan government, the U.S. has agreed to base these troops in the southern border regions -- from where the terrorists move into our country -- and provinces such as Helmand, which are virtually out of our control because of increased terrorist activities. So they will be based in Helmand and Kandahar [provinces].
RFE/RL: In one of his latest speeches, President Karzai said that if the U.S. and his Western allies don't give Afghanistan heavy weapons such as tanks and aircraft, he will seek them from other countries. Was he suggesting that Afghanistan is now looking for Russian military aid?
Spanta: As you know, our military personnel, pilots in particular, are familiar with [and have been trained in] Russian techniques. And some of the Russian helicopters work well in our mountainous areas. So if the Russians help us in those areas, we and our international allies are not opposed to it.
I must insist that even when we have a strategic partnership with the United States, we want aid and economic cooperation with the Russian Federation and other countries. But we are not looking for alternatives to our strategic partners.
RFE/RL: How would you respond to perceptions that President Karzai's recent meeting with the jihadi leaders or militia leaders involved in past conflicts is aimed at reviving a mujahedin and Taliban-era consultative body called Shur-e Hal Va Aqd, which was the sources of most of their harsh regulations. How true is this?
Spanta: [How can we do that] today after all the positive achievements we have made? The people of Afghanistan participated in the presidential, parliamentary, and provincial-council elections. Afghanistan today has more than 500 newspapers and periodicals in Pashto, Persian, and Uzbek. We have several dozen radio stations and many TV stations.
So despite difficulties, our society is moving toward a democratic and pluralistic society. We do not want to move this country back to the failed experiments of the past -- experiments that lack any democratic legitimacy.