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Afghanistan: Abdullah Urges U.S. To Focus On Kabul, Even Amid Iraq Crisis

Afghanistan's foreign minister is in Washington again, urging the United States to keep its focus on Kabul, even if it goes to war with Baghdad.

Washington, 22 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is in Washington for the second time in a month, is expressing concern that his country could fall prey to destabilizing terrorist attacks in the event of a U.S.-led war on Iraq. "Terrorist groups, terrorist organizations -- they might try to destabilize the situation in Afghanistan as much as they can in order to show that the efforts of the United States in Afghanistan have not been a success, [but that] it has been a failure," Abdullah said.

Abdullah made his remarks in a speech yesterday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, a Washington think tank.

Fighting among warlords is still a feature of Afghan life, and Abdullah said the country continues to face instability despite great progress in recent months. He said the future of the United States' global war on terrorism may hinge on whether that war consolidates its success in Afghanistan. "The situation can turn negative. That would be very unfortunate. Briefly, we cannot afford to fail. The United States of America cannot afford to fail in Afghanistan. Afghanistan should be made a success model. If that doesn't happen, I think that would not set the right precedents," Abdullah said.

Last month, Abdullah delivered a similar message in Washington when he asked the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to maintain its focus on Afghanistan even as it ponders military action to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Yesterday, Abdullah said he has been assured by U.S. officials that Washington will not lose its focus on Afghanistan. But he acknowledged that many Afghans are concerned that an American-led war against Baghdad cannot help but divert U.S. resources and attention away from Kabul.

That concern was also voiced by CSIS President John Hamre, who said the Bush administration has a moral duty to follow through on its commitments to Afghanistan, even if it goes to war and faces a long and costly reconstruction project in Iraq. "If we don't follow through to create the democracy that we say we're going to through military action, then we're no different from the countries that have piled into Afghanistan through its long, terrible history and have just left wreckage," Hamre said.

Abdullah said he understands U.S. policy on Iraq, which aims to disarm the country of weapons of mass destruction. And he said he regards Hussein as a dictator who should be held accountable for making many people in his country and in the region suffer.

But he said terrorism is far from defeated in Afghanistan and the region. He said recent gains by Islamist parties in Pakistan's parliamentary elections are "a major concern," and he expressed hope that President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan can successfully deal with Islamic militants. "The fact that [Islamist parties] are in power there, they will jeopardize stability in Pakistan itself. In their agenda -- announced or not announced -- we know it. They have made it clear. They are there to deliver. It is a major concern for us. I wish President Musharraf every success in his endeavors in the campaign against terror," Abdullah said.

Asked about possible interference in Afghan affairs from neighbors Pakistan and Iran, Abdullah said no country should be allowed to destabilize his country. But he acknowledged that such interference exists and that the only way to stop it is to make Afghanistan stronger and more stable.