- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 22, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan President Bush will "work very closely" with the interim government of Afghanistan that takes power today to put an end to terrorism, the narcotics trade and other problems left over from the Taliban regime, a U.S. official said yesterday.
"This could be the first peaceful transfer of power from one leader to another [in Afghanistan], certainly in decades, and maybe in centuries," said James Dobbins, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan.
Hamid Karzai, who enjoys support from the United States, Europe, Russia, India and other nations, is to become Afghanistan's interim leader in an official ceremony today.
Mr. Karzai will rule for six months as "chairman" of a faction-ridden coalition of military commanders, bureaucrats, prominent ethnic leaders, supporters of a former monarch and others. In the summer, a grand assembly will decide how to elect a new government.
Mr. Dobbins said he handed a message from President Bush to Mr. Karzai congratulating him, reiterating an invitation to visit Washington early in the new year and "expressing the U.S. intention to work very closely with his administration."
The United States today will officially recognize the Karzai administration as the government of Afghanistan, Mr. Dobbins said. He said everything Mr. Karzai and others in his government have said and done "indicate their desire" to work with the United States to fight terrorism and narcotics and solve other regional issues.
"I see no areas in which there are, at this point, fundamental or principal disagreements," Mr. Dobbins said.
He said Mr. Karzai has the support of all anti-Taliban factions and neighboring countries, including Pakistan and Iran.
"The challenge that he faces is trying to get a new Afghan interim government to work together, because it is a group that has been patched together from different political parties, different interest groups, different stakeholders," Mr. Dobbins said.
International troops will assist in securing the country, which is now largely peaceful after the disappearance of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and most of the senior Taliban leadership.
Rival warlords in scattered regions, however, need to be pacified to prevent a return to chaos.
"I think that an international security force will make a contribution to confidence and stability, but I think that the prevention of a return to factional violence will depend predominantly on the steps taken by the Afghan authorities," Mr. Dobbins said.
The envoy spoke at the newly opened U.S. Embassy, which had been shut since January 1989 when Soviet occupation forces were withdrawing. The embassy bears signs of internal damage caused by weather and neglect.
The U.S. delegation at today's ceremony will comprise about 20 officials, including the commander of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Gen. Tommy Franks, Mr. Dobbins and officials from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Council.
British forces will provide security for visiting dignitaries and will monitor the Afghan capital, Kabul. U.S. forces will protect American officials at the ceremony.
Mr. Dobbins indicated that the area of operation for the British force, now limited to "Kabul and its immediate environs," will be enlarged soon at the request of the Afghan government.
He said the international community will desire a program of "demobilization" of Afghan military forces, including the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance. The program would include "providing alternative livelihood [and] alternative vocations for people who are currently professional or semi-professional soldiers," Mr. Dobbins said.
He also noted that Afghan Interior Minister Younus Qanooni has ordered that no arms be carried on the streets of Kabul, except by police.

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