[NOTE: This is a news report of a September 22, 2005, meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations. Full transcript click here.]
New York, September 22, 2005 - Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s foreign minister, called the recent parliamentary elections “a major turning point” on his country’s path to democracy. “The people of Afghanistan seized the opportunity” offered by the September 18 parliamentary poll, he said. “There is a new rule of living and working together…through the democratic process. [The elections] should be considered a visible, transparent success.”
Abdullah made his comments during a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations.
He defended criticism of the election turnout, 50 percent, as “not low by other countries’ standards.”
In response to charges that warlords still play a strong role in Afghan life, Abdullah said it is important to find a place for warlords in the democratic process. “You can’t antagonize people who have an army, fought the Soviets, and fought al-Qaeda,” he said, adding that by “excluding them, would jeopardize the process” of building a new state.
Abdullah called for continued, focused foreign engagement to help Afghans consolidate the achievements of the last four years since the U.S. ousted the Taliban and prevent the remaining Taliban elements from regaining power. He estimated Afghanistan would need as many as ten years’ worth of assistance from the international community, but called it “the right investment for the world community.”
Abdullah said some progress had been made in decreasing the amount of land dedicated to poppy cultivation, which is then used to produce opium, but that the total poppy yield declined only slightly last year. Revenue from the illegal drug trade dwarfs Afghanistan’s legitimate gross national product (GNP).
When asked about the location of al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, Abdullah said they were “outside Afghanistan.”