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Afghanistan: U.S. Envoy Says Free Elections, Disbanding Militias Key To Country's Future

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, told RFE/RL that Washington will not attempt to influence the country's presidential elections in October. Khalilzad, who was in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) in search of investment from the local Afghan community, also said the United States is determined to help disarm Afghanistan's private militias.

Dubai City, U.A.E.; 19 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Washington's special envoy to Afghanistan says the United States supports the recent recommendation by the UN-Afghan election commission to delay parliamentary elections until next year.

Zalmay Khalilzad also said the United States will not attempt to influence the outcome of the country's presidential elections, which will go ahead in October. He said the United States will offer Kabul whatever support it can to ensure the elections will be free and fair.

"What has been said about the elections -- meaning the presidential elections in October and parliamentary elections, which are the recommendations of the independent elections commission and the United Nations -- the United States government supports that and considers it a positive step. The people of Afghanistan have registered to vote and shown that they want to move toward democracy and elections. The United States supports this progress," Khalilzad said.
"These [militias] will have to go by the end of next June. This is very important. The world and the United States are supportive of implementing that and we will do whatever we can to enforce it." -- Khalilzad

Afghanistan's current leader, Hamid Karzai, is widely expected to win the ballot. Khalilzad said Washington has supported Karzai's performance during his two years in office. But he said the Bush administration will not attempt to influence the vote in Karzai's favor.

"The question of who will declare themselves candidates, for either the presidential or parliamentary elections, is a question for them to decide. Who will win is a decision of the people of Afghanistan, and the United States will support that decision. Mr. Karzai is a good and successful leader for the people of Afghanistan. The United States has good and close relations with Afghanistan. But who will be a candidate, and who will win, is an issue in which the United States does not have a direct role," Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad, an Afghan-American who has served as special envoy since 2002, warned that security remains a primary challenge in Afghanistan. He said the country's numerous private militias must be disbanded, and Al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants defeated, before the country can gain stability.

"Afghanistan has two challenges: Al-Qaeda and members of the Taliban who are hired by foreigners and sent to Afghanistan, and also the problem of the warlords. Both problems have to be dealt with in order to achieve success and lasting security in Afghanistan," Khalilzad said.

The U.S. envoy said the warlords must accept the supremacy of the central government in Kabul and dissolve their private armies by this time next year. Khalilzad expressed confidence that this could be done without unleashing civil war in a national already shattered by decades of armed conflict.

"These [militias] will have to go by the end of next June. This is very important. The world and the United States are supportive of implementing that and we will do whatever we can to enforce it. No one should have any doubt that the existence of various camps is not in the interest of Afghanistan. It does not mean that one should look at it from the perspective of civil war. The success of Afghanistan, security in [Afghanistan], necessitates that private and regional camps be dismantled," Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad is touring the United Arab Emirates and Egypt to shore up financial support from the Afghan communities in the region for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.