- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 (UPI) — Security concerns and the need for immediate international aid will be high on his agenda when Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrives in Washington next week for talks with President George W. Bush and other senior U.S. officials.

His visit comes amid reports that European troops keeping the peace in Kabul have a contingency plan to pull out if a possible U.S. war against Iraq inflames anti-Western feeling in the Afghan capital, and amid complaints that international aid pledged in the flush of enthusiasm after the fall of the Taliban has not materialized.

Karzai came to power in December 2001 after U.S. forces captured the Afghan capital Kabul, forcing the former Taliban rulers to flee.

A State Department official told United Press International on Friday that Karzai would spend two days — Wednesday and Thursday — in Washington after attending an international conference on Afghan security in Tokyo.

His talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will focus on security concerns in Afghanistan where the Karzai government is still struggling to extend its control beyond Kabul.

Even in his own capital, Karzai relies on bodyguards provided by the U.S. State Department for his own protection and on the U.N.-mandated International Security Assistance Force for maintaining peace and order.

In the rest of the country, local warlords are often the de facto power. Conflict has broken out intermittently in some areas between the militias of various warlords — thought to total about 700,000 soldiers altogether.

Plans to form an Afghan national army, trained by the U.S. military, appear to have stalled, although Rumsfeld pledged last week that "we will not abandon Afghanistan."

Afghan officials, including Karzai, have often said that the lack of international economic assistance has had a direct bearing on the security situation in Afghanistan.

"He will also be meeting with a lot of senior officials having to do with economics," said the State Department official.

Karzai arrived in Tokyo on Thursday for a four-day visit to attend the Tokyo Conference on Consolidation of Peace in Afghanistan. The international meeting is scheduled to discuss ways to restore peace and security in Afghanistan, particularly in the backdrop of an obvious increase in the activities of the al Qaida and Taliban fugitives and clashes among Afghan warlords.

Last month, U.S. forces fought a pitched battle near the former Taliban headquarters in the southwestern Kandahar province while minor ambushes on both U.S. and official Afghan forces also have increased.

Earlier this week, the United States declared an Afghan warlord, and former prime minister, Gulbadin Hekmatyar a "designated terrorist" after he formed an alliance with the Taliban aimed at forcing U.S. and allied forces to leave Afghanistan.

Addressing a news conference in Tokyo, Karzai presented an agenda — called DDR for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of Afghan fighters — for restoring peace to Afghanistan.

He said he hopes to achieve this within three years but admitted that "it's a complicated process."

DDR is the top item on the conference's agenda.

In January 2002, Tokyo hosted a ministerial conference on Afghan reconstruction, at which attending nations pledged $4.5 billion in aid.

But Afghanistan complains that most of those pledges were not met, forcing the Afghan government to depend on international handouts even for paying its employees.

And now the Afghan government fears that a shift in the world attention to Iraq could further reduce the involvement of the international community in the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's fears have been further compounded by an indication from Germany that it could withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in the event of a war in Iraq.

German Defense Minister Peter Struck told a news conference in Berlin on Friday that a contingency plan had been worked out with the United States to evacuate civilians from Afghanistan if tensions in the region escalated. After the civilians, the troops could also be pulled out, he warned.

Germany and the Netherlands took joint control of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Kabul on Feb. 10.

Alarmed by these developments, Karzai warned, "Reducing attention to Afghanistan at this critical time will have obvious negative impact that nobody wants," hinting that instability in the region will harm the global community as well.

Earlier Friday, Britain's Financial Times newspaper quoted a confidential German Foreign Ministry report indicating mounting hostility towards the peacekeepers, even among the Afghan government's security forces.

The 22-nation, 4,800-strong force has maintained security in the Afghan capital since its deployment in December 2001 after U.S. forces forced Taliban fighters to retreat.

Although Kabul's security situation has improved considerably, there have been several attacks on foreign soldiers in recent weeks.

Violence continues to plague Afghanistan's many provinces as well where armed factions and gangs fight for control or booty.

The German report quoted by the Financial Times warns that troops from the Northern Alliance, who entered the Afghan capital when the Taliban fled, could damage ISAF's work in Kabul and block access to the air base in Bagram.

It adds that the security situation in Kabul could worsen further in the event of military action in Iraq.

A war could increase sympathy for terrorist groups and lead to more intense terrorist activity in Kabul, the report says.


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