Afghan envoy praises new grant of $136 million

Visiting Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah expressed gratitude for a fresh Japanese aid package Tuesday and asked the international community to continue supporting Afghan reconstruction as world attention shifts toward Iraq.

Abdullah said a $136 million aid package announced earlier in the day demonstrates Japan’s “full commitment” to the pledge it made in January at the international conference on the reconstruction of Afghanistan in Tokyo.

Abdullah said Japan has already played a major role in education, health, infrastructure reconstruction, mine clearing, women’s rights and administrative capacity.

“All these contributions as a package strengthen peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he told a news conference at the Japan National Press Club. “We are grateful for that.”

In the event of a military attack on Iraq, Abdullah emphasized that international support for the campaign against terrorism and for reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan should not waver.

“It should not shift attention or focus from Afghanistan,” he said. “The campaign in Afghanistan will continue and should continue with full force, (and) the efforts for the reconstruction of Afghanistan should also continue.”

Regarding security in the country, Abdullah said that although there have been “some serious incidents,” the overall situation has improved.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in September, and the country has been plagued by clashes between regional military cliques.

“One has to look at it in a context of overall situation. There is no comparison between what was happening a year ago in Afghanistan and today,” he said, emphasizing that the country was ruled by “thousands of terrorists” before the Taliban regime was toppled by the U.S.-led coalition.

More than 1.6 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan and 3 million children, including girls, have gone back to school — a sign that security is improving, Abdullah said.

While Afghanistan is depending on U.S. forces to protect Karzai, Abdullah said it was only “a temporary measure under a specific circumstance.” He said the people of Afghanistan “welcomed and requested” the presence of foreign forces to aid its recovery after more than 20 years of war.