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Afghanistan Prepares to Install New National Assembly

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2005 – Just as election activities wrap up in Iraq, the people of Afghanistan are looking toward a historic event in their own country, as its National Assembly convenes Dec. 19 for the first time in more than three decades.

Formation of the parliament marks the latest step in Afghanistan' path to democracy and follows the country's Sept. 18 parliamentary elections, a State Department official told the American Forces Press Service on the condition that he not be identified or quoted.

Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police and international military forces ensured a relatively safe and secure environment so more than 12.5 million registered voters could vote for a 249-member lower house of parliament, as well as provincial councils. These council members, in turn, elected 68 members of the upper chamber.

President Hamid Karzai appointed the remaining 34 upper-house members, more than half of them women, the official explained.

The seating of the national assembly represents fulfillment of the 2001 Bonn Agreement intended to establish a new Afghan government, he said.

Members of Afghanistan's first parliament in more than 30 years gathered in Kabul late last week to start a week-long orientation sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development before the legislature's inauguration, the official said.

The parliament's first order of business will be to approve the cabinet Karzai named last January and the decrees he has made since his December 2004 swearing-in.

Afghanistan has had no elected legislature since the 1970s, when the country endured coups and the Soviet invasion, followed by a civil war in the early 1990s and the Taliban takeover.

The last elected legislature, the first in Afghanistan's history, proved to be ineffective, the State Department official noted, but the Afghan people appear to expect far more from their new parliament.

An ABC News poll released Dec. 7, the fourth anniversary of the fall of Kandahar from Taliban control, notes that 77 percent of the Afghans polled expressed confidence that the new parliament will work for the benefit of the people. This confidence comes despite fairly widespread suspicion of cheating during the elections, the poll revealed.

Forty-one percent of those polled cited the Taliban as the biggest danger Afghanistan faces.

U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan are working with Afghan forces to counter this threat and ensure a stable environment where the new Afghan government can thrive, said Air Force Maj. Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman.

"This is a very dynamic campaign, and the conditions changed with the successful parliamentary and provisional elections," Vician said. "Our primary responsibility is counter-terrorism, but we continually reassess our strategy in close partnership with the government of Afghanistan."

Coalition and Afghan forces continue to take the fight to the enemy and defeat terrorist organizations and their infrastructure, he said.

"Our strategic goals for Afghanistan remain unchanged: to help the Afghan government develop the capacity to defend itself from external aggression and to ensure that its territory is not used as a safe haven by international terrorists," Vician said.

A two-day conference slated to convene in London Jan. 31 will look to the next five years and establish further benchmarks for Afghanistan's political progress, and the United States and other participants are expected to pledge financial support toward that effort, the State Department official said.

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