Thursday, July 6, 2006

Islamist terrorism in Afghanistan is on the rise, aided by foreign support and by the struggles of the government in Kabul to deliver on promises of security and development, the nation’s foreign minister said yesterday.

“The confidence of our people in the government to protect them, especially in our southern provinces, is not strong,” Rangin Dadfar Spanta said during a luncheon interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

This year has seen some of the bloodiest fighting in Afghanistan since a U.S.-led coalition ousted the militant Taliban regime in 2001, including a string of bombings in Kabul this week that killed one person and wounded about 60 others.

Mr. Spanta, who met this week with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior administration officials, blamed both “external and internal forces” for the spike in violence.

He would not specify in the interview which of Afghanistan’s neighbors he blamed for the upsurge, but his government repeatedly has accused Pakistan of failing to do enough to stop the flow of extremists across their common border.

Miss Rice traveled to Kabul and Islamabad late last month to press for better cooperation between the two U.S. allies.

“We are still waiting to see the results of that visit in our neighbor,” Mr. Spanta said.

The foreign minister also acknowledged Afghan security forces must be beefed up if they are to help U.S. and allied forces put down the Taliban, who harbored Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terror network as they plotted the September 11 attacks on the United States. Government police and security forces are outmanned and outgunned by the terrorists, he said.

“One part of our forces has very modern weapons and another part is still using Russian arms and equipment left over from the [Soviet] days,” Mr. Spanta said. “That makes it hard to cooperate among ourselves and hard to complement the coalition forces we are working with.”

For Mr. Spanta, seen as a confidant of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, this is the first trip to Washington since he replaced longtime Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah in April.

Mr. Abdullah was a key power broker in the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance that ousted the fundamentalist Taliban regime in 2001, while Mr. Spanta spent virtually all of the past quarter-century in exile.

Mr. Spanta joined the Afghan resistance to the 1979 Soviet invasion, eventually settling in Germany and working with left-wing democratic exile groups. He taught for more than a decade at Aachen University before returning to Afghanistan in 2004, becoming a top foreign policy adviser to Mr. Karzai.

He said yesterday that the terrorists in Afghanistan have targeted development projects and schools, especially those educating Afghan girls. Officials at New York-based Human Rights Watch are preparing to release a study next week that documents a sharp rise in the attacks on Afghan schools since the beginning of the year.

Afghan government forces and the international security force run by NATO are preparing for a major anti-terrorist campaign against Taliban and foreign terrorist groups in the country’s south. The Bush administration Monday promised to double military aid to the Karzai government to $4 billion to help modernize and equip the country’s infant armed forces.

Mr. Spanta said his talks this week left him reassured that the U.S. government remains committed to Afghanistan’s political and economic success, but said the international community should not underestimate his country’s needs after a quarter-century of civil war and strife.

“The success at the beginning [of the 2001 war] came very fast, and I think our government and international community were perhaps a little bit naive about how easy it would be to bring the Afghanistan project to an end,” he said.

Said Jawad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Washington, complained that only 5 percent of the more than $11 billion in international assistance to Afghanistan went directly to government, giving ministers and bureaucracies in Kabul little opportunity to build up domestic expertise to oversee development.

Mr. Spanta said the government had made some progress in reducing the acreage devoted to the cultivation of poppies, the main source of opium. But, he said, a good growing season this year meant that overall production in Afghanistan, the world’s largest poppy producer, was virtually level with a year ago.

The foreign minister said it was “unrealistic” to cut poppy production if Afghan farmers are given no alternative crops to grow and if international criminal and terrorist drug rings continue to operate freely.

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