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By Bulent Ecevit

Bulent Ecevit is the prime minister of Turkey.

-- Torn apart by decades of continuous warfare, Afghanistan is now entering a period of gradual recovery and reconstruction. The situation presents unique challenges.

The country has one of the highest concentrations of land mines in the world. Several million refugees are in neighboring countries, and a large number of internally displaced persons are in Afghanistan itself.

The country's infrastructure has been almost totally destroyed. The Afghans do not have anything remotely resembling the basic skeleton of a modern economy. There is an acute shortage of food, medicines and other humanitarian relief supplies.

To top it off, Afghanistan is heavily fragmented into a multitude of ethnic groups. This is the picture of a truly unfortunate country that faces the difficult task of recreating itself out of its own ashes.

Even before Sept. 11, Afghanistan was a source of grave concern in that it had become a hotbed of terrorist training and illegal drug production. Sept. 11 showed us that there is a close relationship between our own security and well being and the plight of countries such as Afghanistan.

Now that the Taliban are virtually out of the way, the world's attention is naturally shifting to the next phase, which involves two parallel tracks.

One is creation of a viable government structure that will pave the way for a political accommodation. The other is immediate action to rebuild the physical, economic and human infrastructure of Afghanistan. It is encouraging to see that there seems to be a broader appreciation of the need to extend urgent reconstruction aid. A number of mechanisms have already been set up. For the first time in its history, Afghanistan is receiving the kind of positive attention that might make a difference for the better.

One might ask exactly what kind of a role Turkey is playing or would like to play to help Afghanistan.

Turkey's interest in Afghanistan is not new. Our relationship goes way back in time. Turkey helped Afghanistan with modernization efforts, ranging from sending Turkish officers to train the Afghan army to establishing educational and cultural facilities.

Through the years, we took special care to maintain balanced dialogue with all Afghan groups. Similarly, we made sure that our assistance benefited all the ethnicities. Our principled approach helped create an atmosphere of mutual confidence between Turkey and Afghans as a whole. This makes it easier for us to play an active role in Afghanistan's recovery.

While giving firm support to the U.S.-led campaign to rid Afghanistan of terrorist elements, Turkey has expressed its desire to participate in international initiatives aimed at rebuilding the country. We are helping the Afghans on a bilateral basis as well, by providing aid in such critical sectors as health and education and training Afghan diplomats.

In addition, Turkey is playing a leading role in the efforts to reinforce peace and stability. We initially contributed some 270 troops to the International Security Assistance Force in and around Kabul. On June 20, Turkey took over the command of this force for the next six months and increased its contingent to around 1,400 troops.

Turkey is also willing to help with the establishment of a national Afghan army. Creation of a national defense capability is necessary to enable the Afghans to prevent infiltration by foreign elements such as Al Qaeda. An additional benefit will be the growth of a sense of national cohesion. Turkey's assumption of the leadership of the assistance force comes at a time of profound political change in Afghanistan. The recent meeting of the traditional Afghan assembly, the loya jirga, has set the country on a course toward building permanent political institutions. During this critical period, maintenance of security in the country will remain paramount. Therefore, leadership of the force is a mission in which we cannot afford to fail.

To the extent that the international community maintains its support of Afghanistan and the assistance force accomplishes its objectives, the Afghan groups will begin to overcome differences and see each other as partners. To that end, we look forward to cooperating closely with all our allies and partners in ensuring the success of the assistance force.

Continued U.S. engagement in Afghanistan will be a strong incentive for Afghan groups as they work toward national reconciliation.

The world has responded to Afghanistan's call for assistance by launching one of the most comprehensive reconstruction programs of modern history. International declarations of support have been encouraging. It is equally important that the initial pledges be backed up by concrete action and the aid effort be sustained.

Our goal should be a democratic Afghanistan upholding the rule of law and human rights, posing no threat to its neighbors and at peace with itself. All ethnic groups must see that only by working together and respecting the others can they hope to place their country on a path of development, prosperity and stability. We believe these are achievable goals, provided that all the relevant countries, and especially neighbors, support them. Turkey is ready to do whatever it can to help realize this vision.

(c) 2002, European Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 7/31/02)

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