Afghan official says American support won't falter after U.S. election

Both parties are concerned about underinvestment in the war effort there, says Ambassador Jawad.

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November's presidential election should not affect US support for battling the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, that country's ambassador to the US said.

But at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters on Thursday, Ambassador Said T. Jawad said he was concerned about Pakistan's efforts to arrange what he called a "separate peace" with militants in volatile tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

"There is a consensus from both parties that there has been some underinvestment in Afghanistan and more resources and funding [are] needed. In fact, the Democrats are more outspoken on the need of focusing on Afghanistan. So I am really not concerned that a change of government or a change of political party in the Congress will affect the degree of the commitment of the United States to Afghanistan," Ambassador Jawad said.

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During the breakfast, Jawad voiced his concern about the new coalition government in Pakistan negotiating with militants. "To us, the intention doesn't matter very much, frankly. It is the consequences, the outcome. And we know from experience in the past that the outcome of these kinds of separate peace deals, without including provisions for cross-border infiltrations, will lead to further violence against Afghans, NATO, and coalition forces," he said.

While they receive less news coverage than the war in Iraq, US military activities in Afghanistan have been costly. On Sunday, the Pentagon said that at least 427 members of the US military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan as a result of the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

The ambassador was cautious in responding to comments Republican presidential candidate John McCain made in a speech Thursday. Senator McCain said he believes the Iraq war can be won within four years, leaving a functioning democracy there and allowing most US troops to come home. In a speech in Columbus, Ohio, he also said Osama bin Laden would be captured or killed within four years and Al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan would be reduced to remnants.

When asked if he agreed with McCain's forecast, Jawad said, "It depends on how [many] resources we put in. If we put in adequate resources, if get cooperation of the neighboring countries, full and sincere cooperation of Pakistan, we will defeat Al Qaeda in that framework or even a shorter time. But we should be mindful that in Afghanistan or in Pakistan we are not fighting terrorists as individuals. Removing Osama does not end the threat of terrorism.... We are fighting terrorism as a phenomenon that has many aspects."

His cautious assessment echoes comments made last month by the United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide. In a talk in Washington, Mr. Eide said uncoordinated and under-resourced international efforts and a weak government in Kabul put at risk gains since the Taliban's ouster. Eide, a Norwegian diplomat, said the situation is "urgent." In a meeting with Eide, President Bush said, "We're making progress in Afghanistan, but there is tough fighting.... I know full well we are dealing with a determined enemy."

A UN human rights official in Kabul alleged Thursday that foreign intelligence agents were acting with impunity in Afghanistan and have taken part in secret raids that have killed civilians, according to an Associated Press report. UN envoy Philip Alston said,

"It is absolutely unacceptable for heavily armed internationals accompanied by heavily armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them."

Asked about the report, Jawad said, "Keeping the support of the ordinary citizen while conducting military operations against the bad element is a necessity. The difficult part of that is how to balance between those things. On the one hand, to make sure the criminals, the terrorists, are punished on time but on the other hand not to deprive ourselves from our natural allies, which are the people in the villages and towns who are primarily affected by the terrorists." He said the issue was a matter of "discussion" in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Citizens sometimes turn a blind eye to Taliban forces in their midst, Jawad said. "The reason is that together ... the international community and the Afghan government are not strong enough to protect these people. So if the military operation has come back and the Taliban are pushed aside to the next province or into Pakistan, and then they come back next month, people will be careful [about] cooperating with us."

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