Armitage Urges Continued Support for Afghanistan
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 29, 2004 Just 10 days before Afghanistan's presidential election, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage told Congress all signs point toward the successful election of a sovereign government.
But Armitage stressed today in testimony before the House Committee on International Relations that even a democratically elected government will need a better security situation to govern successfully. That, he said, demands, at least "for the time being," ongoing international assistance in fighting the Taliban, al Qaeda and other insurgent elements and in helping Afghanistan develop the security forces needed to defend itself as it rebuilds.
Armitage urged Congress to continue its long-term commitment to Afghanistan as part of a "strategic partnership that will continue to benefit both of our nations for many years to come."
"Three years ago, the United States embarked on a campaign in Afghanistan to defend our country," he said. "Today, our goal remains to defeat terrorism, and specifically to deny terrorists any safe haven in Afghanistan."
This campaign has seen many victories, but Afghanistan's long-term stability is key to its long-term success, he said.
In addition to the election of a sovereign government starting with the presidential election Oct. 9, followed by parliamentary and local elections next spring other key building blocks of Afghanistan's stability are continued security improvements and reconstruction efforts, Armitage said.
"As we pursue these objectives, the outcome we want to see is a self-governing Afghanistan, where all the people men and women alike enjoy human rights and freedom of conscience," he said. "We also want to maintain our partnership in the global war on terrorism."
Armitage reported encouraging progress in preparations for the upcoming elections. More than 10 million Afghans have registered to vote, he said, "far more than the Afghan government and the international community anticipated." More than 40 percent of the registered voters are women, and voter registration in all but two provinces has exceeded 68 percent of the estimated voter-age population. In addition, Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan will have the opportunity to vote, Armitage reported.
"We believe the results of the Oct. 9 election will indeed represent the will of a broad cross section of the population," he said.
Armitage acknowledged that the Taliban and other insurgents will continue to try to disrupt the election progress, perhaps even by attempting a large-scale attack on election day itself. But Afghanistan and the international community are preparing for the possibility, he reported.
"Forces from 41 countries, plus the Afghan National Army and police, will be on the ground, ready to defend the integrity of the election process and the right of the Afghan people to vote," he said.
Armitage said efforts by Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's interim president, have succeeded in reducing the influence of several of the most prominent militia leaders who might otherwise "hijack the election to consolidate their own hold on power."
Some of these militia leaders have expressed interest in becoming a part of the political process and others have agreed to put their militias under the command of the Afghan National Army, Armitage told the House committee. "It may well be that these factional leaders are starting to accept that their future lies within the framework of the Afghan constitution," he said.
The vote count is expected to last several weeks, Armitage said, with a run-off scheduled if no candidate wins a majority.
"We believe that the result will command respect from the Afghan people and the international community," he said. "A successful presidential election will be the first step in developing a tradition of democratic elections in Afghanistan" that will carry over into next spring's elections.
Armitage said Operation Enduring Freedom, with 20 countries contributing troops, will continue to help create the security needed for the new government to operate. In addition, he said 36 countries participating in the International Security Assistance Force as well as 17 provincial reconstruction teams also provide security across the country.
Meanwhile, he said, the United States is helping Afghanistan develop the security forces it will need to defend itself not only against terrorists, but also against threats that include trafficking of narcotics as well as people, as it continues its reconstruction effort.
"Afghanistan has come a long way in the short space of one year," Armitage told the House committee, expressing optimism in that country's future.
"It is entirely reasonable to expect that a year from now, the Afghan people will have a duly elected president, a parliament made up of local and national representatives and the institutions they need to defend and protect their sovereignty and integrity against religious extremism, terrorism and narcotics trafficking," he said.