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By Zalmay Khalilzad

Zalmay Khalilzad is President George W. Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan. The long-awaited loya jirga that will determine Afghanistan's future political order begins on Monday (June 10) and will last 10 days.

-- In the wake of Sept. 11, the United States and its international partners set three primary objectives for defeating the terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan: root out the Al Qaeda network; defeat the Taliban regime; create conditions that ensure Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for terrorists.

Nine months later, the international community can report great progress on all three fronts. Al Qaeda is on the run, and the brutal misrule of the Taliban is a memory. After a generation scarred by war, drought and dictatorship, the Afghan people are starting to forge a more hopeful future, signaled by next week's convening of the loya jirga -- a traditional national assembly -- to create a transitional government.

America, its allies and the Afghan people are united in the determination that Afghanistan will never again be the training ground and base of operations for global terror. We are equally determined that Afghanistan's tragic experience -- where terrorists were allowed to hold an entire nation hostage -- will not be duplicated anywhere in the world.

To lock in our gains in Afghanistan, it is critical that America, the Afghan people and our coalition allies continue to proceed on three mutually reinforcing tracks: security cooperation, political development and economic reconstruction.

Our success so far on security has resulted from a potent mix of overwhelming coalition military power, special forces operations and the disruption of Al Qaeda operations and networks by international intelligence and law enforcement efforts. We also used their Achilles' heel against them: the fact that they terrorized their own people. When people are given the choice between freedom and tyranny, they will choose freedom every time.

We continue to work with coalition allies and the Afghans to hunt down remaining Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters, who still destabilize and threaten parts of Afghanistan. We are also helping the Afghan people create their own permanent, self-sustaining security forces. Last month, the United States began professional military training for Afghan forces. Germany is taking the lead in training and equipping an Afghan police force. And our strong support for the International Security Assistance Force -- currently under British command and soon to be under Turkish command -- continues, as do our efforts to help local commanders resolve conflicts peacefully.

Recognizing that Afghanistan needs a road map for political stability, we joined with Afghans, allies and the United Nations in Bonn last December to develop a framework to steer Afghanistan toward a broad-based, representative, accountable government, that will respect the rights of all Afghans, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or tribe.

Bringing together nearly 1,500 Afghans to take the next step in determining the future of their government, the loya jirga, a wholly Afghan grass-roots process, will affirm Afghanistan's next leader for an 18-month term while the country drafts a constitution and lays the ground for a permanent government. A significant marker for change in Afghanistan is that nearly 200 women will serve as delegates to the loya jirga. We will work with the Afghan people and the international community to make their vision a reality.

To that end, we are working toward the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan. Last January in Tokyo, 61 countries pledged economic aid to help rebuild this shattered country. The U.S. Congress recently agreed to authorize $1.45 billion to help Afghanistan over the next four years. Together, the United States and our coalition allies will provide nearly $1.8 billion this year to help Afghanistan's government and local communities meet urgent humanitarian needs while rehabilitating key infrastructure such as roads, bridges, health clinics, schools, and water and sanitation systems.

We also are committed to helping Afghanistan rebuild its economy through foreign investment and trade. Last month, President Bush restored normal trade relations with Afghanistan, which had been suspended since 1986. This will help normalize relations between Afghanistan and the United States while improving the Afghan economy. We are promoting Afghan enterprise through an initial U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) $50 million line of credit to bolster Afghanistan's private sector. American businesses have come to Kabul and are interested in investing in joint ventures to build hotels and other projects.

Together with our Afghan and coalition allies, we have achieved significant successes in Afghanistan. We still face serious challenges, but we are determined to see this effort through.

(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 6/6/02)