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Afghanistan: Foreign Minister To Meet Powell, Other U.S. Officials Ahead Of Karzai's Visit

The head of Afghanistan's new interim government, Hamid Karzai, is scheduled to make his first visit to Washington next week since assuming power in the wake of the U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. To prepare for his visit, Afghanistan's interim Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah is in the U.S. capital and will meet with top American officials today.

Washington, 25 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The interim foreign minister of Afghanistan -- warning that there are still pockets of Al-Qaeda and enemy forces in his country -- is urging the United States to continue its antiterrorism military campaign in his country until it has accomplished all of its objectives.

Abdullah Abdullah made his comments yesterday at a political forum hosted by the private Council on Foreign Relations after arriving in Washington. Abdullah is due to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell and other top U.S. officials today as he paves the way for a scheduled visit on 28 January of Hamid Karzai, head of Kabul's new interim government.

Karzai's trip marks his first official visit to Washington since taking office in the wake of a U.S.-led military campaign that helped overthrow the Taliban militia. He has visited Washington previously, however, even testifying on the abuses of the Taliban before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in July 2000.

Karzai is due to meet on 28 January with President George W. Bush. He also will be the guest of honor at Bush's annual State of the Union address to Congress on 29 January. The next day, Karzai is due to address a public meeting of the 15-nation UN Security Council in New York.

Abdullah, fresh from stops in Japan and China, thanked the global community for pledging nearly $5 billion in reconstruction aid at a recent donors conference in Tokyo. But he also said it would be short-sighted to assume the worst is over. He said Afghanistan still faces threats from lingering Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, and the daunting task of rebuilding after more than 23 years of war.

"It is the job of building a country from scratch, building a state from scratch, building a nation -- this is that difficult. We have taken that challenge, and we will continue our efforts in that regard. We have no choices but to do so, and we need support."

Abdullah urged the U.S. not to let up in its antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan:

"The military operation should continue as long as it takes. That job cannot be left unfulfilled. It should be fully accomplished -- the objectives of the war against terror, the campaign against terror."

As if to prove his point, there are reports that up to 15 Taliban or Al-Qaeda fighters were killed in raids by American special forces near Kandahar in Afghanistan on 23 January. U.S. military officials say 27 people were taken prisoner as a result of the attacks.

Abdullah -- who is also due to meet with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Defense Minister Paul Wolfowitz -- said Afghanistan faces serious security risks as it embarks on the long road of reconstruction. He said international peacekeepers -- so far patrolling only in the capital, Kabul -- should probably be deployed throughout the country.

Asked about the possibility that regional warlords could oppose the interim government, Abdullah said he is confident most of them support the administration, which was brought into office after a UN-brokered conference in Germany last month and is expected to last six months. After that, a government with wider representation is expected to take over and draft a new constitution.

Abdullah said it will take time for some warlords to adjust to the new situation. But he added that if the reconstruction of the country empowers the people of Afghanistan, future internal fighting and bloodshed should be avoided.

Earlier yesterday, the U.S. State Department said Washington wants to use its talks with Abdullah to prepare for Karzai's visit, as well as to pick up on discussions that Powell started with Abdullah earlier this month in Kabul. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher also said the U.S. wants to discuss actions that it would like the Afghan government to take to facilitate reconstruction.

Abdullah said all countries in Central and South Asia stand to benefit from a stable and economically integrated Afghanistan. He said the country could return to its traditional place in the region as a crossroads for commerce and trade:

"Yes, definitely, I see lots of benefits in the development of Afghanistan for the whole region. Everybody can benefit from it in the right way. For Central Asian republics, it will be a unique opportunity -- for decades, it will be a unique opportunity for their political and economical stability."

Abdullah said a key part of his country's rebuilding will be the approach taken by neighboring countries. Pointing to past interference in Afghan affairs by Pakistan, Russia, and Iran, he said the "rules of the game" have changed and must now be based on mutual respect and good neighborliness.

He would not confirm recent media reports and accusations by the American government that Iran is seeking to destabilize the government in Kabul, partly through arming warlords in the west. But Abdullah said:

"It will be an extremely big mistake by any of our neighboring countries to resort to the old methods of interferences in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, rather than letting Afghanistan to decide its own destiny. That would be an extremely counterproductive attitude, and we don't expect that attitude from any of our neighboring countries."

Asked about Pakistan -- which had strongly supported the Taliban before the September terrorist attacks on America -- Abdullah said he believes Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf could have done more in recent months to crack down on extremists. He said Musharraf should seize the moment to rid Pakistan of such elements. He added, however, that he believes many Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters have fled to Pakistan in recent weeks to find safe haven.

As for Osama bin Laden -- the man the U.S. says masterminded the 11 September attacks -- Abdullah said he has no reason to believe the Saudi-born militant has died from kidney disease or lack of proper medical care. Musharraf recently speculated that bin Laden may have met such a fate.