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U.S. Committed to Afghanistan Beyond Elections

U.S. Committed to Afghanistan Beyond September 18 Elections

Ambassador Neumann calls legislative polls milestone toward democracy

By Todd Bullock
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States will continue to support Afghanistan's reconstruction following key legislative elections September 18, and U.S. troops will remain in the country for the foreseeable future, says U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann.

"The standing up of fully capable security forces and with it the standing up of a stable state in Afghanistan" will be a long-term process, he said at a September 19 press conference. "I think we're going to have to be here for a while."

Neumann said making Afghanistan into "a stable state, with a government that is deeply rooted, is the only long-term solution to dealing with the problem of terrorism."

Afghans elected a legislature September 18 for the first time in three decades, embracing their democratic rights as they cast votes in schools, tents and mosques throughout the country.

The voters cast ballots for representatives to the 249-person Lower House, ("Wolesi Jirga") of the National Assembly as well as for members to the 34 provincial councils.

The polls marked "a significant further step on the road to democracy for Afghanistan," the ambassador said.

His observations echoed those of President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who issued statements congratulating the government and people of Afghanistan for their successful parliamentary elections. The elections "are a major step forward in Afghanistan's development as a democratic state governed by the rule of law," Bush said.

The ambassador characterized the election as a crucial step in the process of creating democracy for Afghanistan and noted that the future challenges involve a transition period during which the parliament members must learn to work together as a legislative body and to represent their constituencies.

"The standing up of authentic elected authorities and the building of provincial level government is going to be a long process, but will be central to making sure that you have a government that is a government for all Afghans," he said.

The ambassador said the polls were not affected by violence, a condition that he attributed to effective work by the Afghan police and army. He acknowledged that a few casualties occurred, but said they did not affect the successful conclusion of this "remarkable event."

"The fact there was so little violence is due to how well the Afghan army and police did their job and is also due to the amount of combat we undertook in the border areas before the election," he said.

"A principal of a school, who administrated one of the polling centers, complimented the job of a police captain who helped secure the school for the election," Neumann said.

Neumann said voter turnout, although not as substantial as the 2004 presidential election, was good throughout the country and there were no political boycotts. Official figures on voter turnout are not yet available.

Turning to the issue of women voters, the ambassador said, "President [Hamid] Karzai's impression was that the women's turnout was high and will be 40-60 percent of the total voter turnout." He noted that he was not aware of any reports of intimidation of women voters.

"When you go from the fact that four years ago [the Taliban regime] stoned women in a pit at the soccer stadium,” Afghan women have achieved “a pretty satisfactory level of advance," Neumann said.

In terms of international assistance for the election, the ambassador cited $40 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as contributions from other countries. He also noted there were about 500 international observers throughout the country to monitor polling.

However, he said, "The election itself was run by Afghans, over 80,000 party monitors were trained and they did a very good job."

A transcript of Neumann's remarks is available on the State Department website.

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