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Afghanistan: Turkish Regional Affairs Minister Sees Major Role In Rebuilding

The U.S. and British governments both hope that Turkey, an Islamic country that often serves to bridge the cultural divide between East and West, will play a prominent role in building Afghanistan's future. RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky is in Kabul and spoke to Turkey's minister of Afghan affairs, who is on a two-day visit to the country.

Kabul, 19 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Turkish minister in charge of Afghan affairs, Sukru Sina Gurel, is visiting Afghanistan on 19-20 March to plan what his country's role in that country's reconstruction will be.

The U.S. and Britain, the two countries most involved militarily in Afghanistan, want Turkey to assume command of the multinational peacekeeping forces based in the Afghan capital Kabul. Up until now, Britain has led the 4,500-member International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Turkey is the only Islamic country to be a member of NATO, and as a country that straddles both Asia and Europe, it is often seen as bridging the divide between East and West. As such, both Britain and the U.S. are hoping Turkey will play an important role in bringing political stability to war-torn Afghanistan.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon characterized talks between Turkey, the U.S., and Britain about Turkey assuming command of ISAF as positive, and said Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit favors such a role for his country.

Afghan Affairs Minister Gurel says he has met various ministers in the Afghan interim government and was due to meet interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai this afternoon.

Gurel told RFE/RL what he hoped to accomplish during his visit: "I wanted to come here with several representatives of Turkish [construction companies]. So this is sort of a mixed mission, with both political purposes -- to discuss what we can do as the Turkish Republic in this region for stability and peace -- and, of course, our constructors are well-known all over the world for their good work, fast work, and so I wanted to see whether they can contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan."

Gurel said Turkey is aware of Western expectations regarding his country's role in Afghanistan, and said Turkey is well suited to participate in building Afghanistan's future.

"We are deeply involved in the region. We have historical and cultural ties with this whole region, and Eurasia as a region is now emerging in this new structure of the world and I believe that Turkey has a lot to [contribute] in all fields," Gurel said.

Gurel said he believes no foreign country can fully guarantee Afghanistan's long-term future, and said it is up to the Afghan people themselves to grasp the opportunity to solidify peace and rebuild their country.

"I certainly hope that the Afghan people, with all the interested groups within it, will realize that this is a final chance to develop a political structure which will enable them to develop in peace and security," Gurel said.

Asked what might happen if this "final chance" is missed, Gurel replied: "I do not want to think in a pessimistic way about the future of Afghanistan."