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Afghanistan: Conflict Requires Political Solution

Washington, 9 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A senior U.S. official says only a political solution can bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Karl Inderfurth says military conquest is not a permanent solution for the country, and that without a broad-based government, Afghanistan will remain at war. Inderfurth made the comment Thursday at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on developments in Afghanistan.

Inderfurth said the conflict in Afghanistan is now entering a new phase. He said that recent advances by the Taliban -- the militant Islamic group that rules most of Afghanistan -- have increased regional instability. He added that there is a "clear danger" that the conflict may be widened or inflamed.

Inderfurth explained: "Taliban advances have not brought peace to the country or to the region. Resistance continues, neighboring countries are increasingly worried, and Afghans continue to die. It is a tragedy that the Afghan people, who sacrificed so much to maintain their independence and whose struggle helped end the Cold War, still suffer from this ongoing conflict."

Inderfurth said the principal, immediate danger of expanded conflict comes from increased tension between Iran, the Taliban and Pakistan, arising from the murder of Iranian diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Said Inderfurth: "We view the murder of the diplomats particularly seriously given their protected status under international law. We condemned these killings and joined in the call for an international investigation and the punishment of those found guilty."

Inderfurth said the U.S. is concerned about Iran's staged military maneuvers near the Afghan border and reported incursions into Afghan airspace. He urged all parties involved to use restraint to prevent actions that might lead to actual conflict.

Inderfurth also said the U.S. was disappointed that the joint Pakistan/Iran initiative this summer to promote intra-Afghan negotiations did not succeed. He added that the U.S. now expects Pakistan to exert its influence upon the Taliban to enter into new negotiations.

Explained Inderfurth: "Pakistan has more to gain from a settlement than virtually any other country except Afghanistan itself. No country has been more affected than Pakistan. Moreover, by supporting the Taliban, Pakistan has become isolated regionally and has complicated its relations with India and many other nations."

Inderfurth also said the U.S. has several issues to raise with the Taliban. He said these include narcotics trafficking, human rights -- especially the rights of women, the provision of humanitarian assistance, and safeguarding regional stability. The Taliban's performance on these issues will define the U.S. relationship with it, he said.

Inderfurth also said that another issue of great importance to the U.S. is terrorism. He said that Afghanistan and the Taliban need to understand that by harboring terrorists, they are "becoming increasingly complicit" in the acts the terrorists commit and are forfeiting their right to complain when the U.S. takes "appropriate action."

Inderfurth added: "The bombings of our embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam made it horrifyingly clear that Afghanistan-based terrorism has become a direct threat to us. We are outraged that after all of the support we devoted to the Afghan resistance during the Soviet occupation, that terrorists trained and based in Afghanistan are involved in criminal actions that resulted in the deaths of Americans abroad and threaten our interests and those of our friends all over the world."

Inderfurth called upon the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden, the man suspected by the U.S. of masterminding the American embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and to shut down all of the other terrorist groups operating on Afghan territory.