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'Kabul needs both India, Pakistan'

March 15, 2004 20:51 IST
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Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah believes that it is important for Kabul to maintain good relations with both India and Pakistan.

"We ought to think of our interest in collective, regional terms," he said in an interview in Kabul to The Friday Times, Lahore.

"When we hear news about the progress in relations between India-Pakistan, we consider it a very positive progress for the region. If we move in our relations with Pakistan from one stage to another, other countries in the region should look at it as a positive progress. Afghanistan needs to have relations with different countries and develop them further with the international community. We don't want to see our relations with one country undermining our relations with another."

Referring to the latest India-Pakistan peace initiative, he said, "We wish them success in their efforts. It is important for us to maintain good and friendly relations with both India and Pakistan."

"Two years ago," he said, "it was difficult for a Pakistani journalist to walk in the streets because of the past. That's not the case today. Now they are working here. The situation has changed to a large extent. If we focus on the things that we can do to strengthen the trust between both people, it will ease the situation."

Asked about the possibility of the resurgence of the Taliban, which has warned of spring attacks, he said, "A warning does not mean the threat will materialise. But there are security problems that have to be addressed.

"These problems may be caused by the remnants of Taliban and Al Qaeda. We have to address the issues of governance in areas where the government writ is weak. Politically, yes, we are in control of the whole country, but administratively, no. We have not reached those areas. This creates a gap, which has to be filled. We need to extend the outreach to those areas and undertake reconstruction work there. Cooperation with Pakistan is a key element of the larger security issue. "

Abdullah, a qualified physician who was a close friend of assassinated Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masood, reportedly speaks several languages including English and French.  

Now a trusted aide to President Hamid Karzai, he believes that 'reconstruction is a big challenge in a country destroyed by 23 years of war. Then there are short- and long-term development issues. But at this stage, setting aside the security situation, which is a hindrance in the whole process and has to be tackled, I would say education is the most important issue'.

Asked whether the warlords who rule the provinces were hindering stabilisation efforts, he said, "The remnants of Taliban, Al Qaeda and the drug traffickers are troublesome. The issue of armed groups or 'warlords' -- whatever you call them -- is sometimes difficult to comment on because I don't want to fall for 'stereotypes'. The warlord issue has many and different aspects.

"The ordinary people that are part of these groups want to live a normal life. There have to be some opportunities. There is a DDR [Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration] programme. The progress in reconstruction work will also lead to improvement in this area. But it will take time. It is a lengthy process."

He also said that the return of the 'poppy culture' or opium production 'is a very serious issue for us'.

"We have adopted new programmes for eradication of poppy. We hope to have positive results. This is an area where we need the support of the international community. It is a global problem. Afghanistan alone cannot deal with it," he said.

He also asserted that he saw 'no conflict between the teachings of Islam and the demands of international human rights', despite Afghanistan's chief justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari having proscribed co-education and cable television as contrary to Islam. Women are also banned from driving and singing on state television.  

"There are certain traditional elements which one has to consider. These elements are a society's foundations. Sometimes we are caught in perceptions and in the interpretation. To the best of my knowledge, the issue of women's driving is a technical issue. The more important issue is tolerance."

"Afghanistan is moving towards a vision where Afghan values and traditions would be respected. Islam is the religion of the majority of our people. It will have its place. We can call it an Islamic state and the democratic process will continue," he said.


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