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On historic visit to Afghanistan, Annan pledges support for war-weary nation

On historic visit to Afghanistan, Annan pledges support for war-weary nation

Kofi Annan and Chairman Hamid Karzai at press conference
Paying a historic visit to Afghanistan – the first one for a United Nations leader in the past 40 years – Secretary-General Kofi Annan today brought a message of support to the war-weary people as he met with the Afghan leadership to discuss UN efforts to help with the country’s political transition and economic recovery.

“We have made a good start but there is a lot to be done and I can assure you that we at the UN and the team that is here is determined to work hand in hand with you to try and implement the programmes that we have elaborated together,” the Secretary-General said at a Kabul press conference Afghanistan: Secretary-General, where he was joined by the Chairman of the Interim Administration, Hamid Karzai.

Mr. Annan also stressed that he would hold donors to their pledges of long-term support for Afghanistan. “I know that there is concern that there will be fatigue once the cameras are gone and the donors will forget their commitments,” he said, adding that he would be reminding them of the pledges they had made at a recent conference in Tokyo.

Mr. Karzai then announced the composition of the Special Independent Commission for the convening of the Emergency Loya Jirga – a move that was welcomed by the Secretary-General, who stressed that putting together the panel had been a complex task.

“It is a good list – and let’s support the mix,” Mr. Annan said, adding that his Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, had selected 21 names from among 300. “We have asked them … to work in the interests of Afghanistan and the people and not to be pulled in any direction by one group or the other and we expect them to operate that way.”

During the day, Secretary-General held several meetings with Mr. Karzai – one-on-one and with aides. According to a UN spokesman, Mr. Karzai repeated his commitment to spend the money pledged at the Tokyo conference with full transparency and accountability, but said he would need UN help through the reconstruction phase. He also vowed to stay true to the spirit of the Bonn Agreement governing the political transition, pledging to respect the decisions that will be taken by the Loya Jirga, or supreme council, when it is convened in the next five months to form a government.

In the Afghan capital, the Secretary-General also visited the headquarters of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). According to a UN spokesman, ISAF Commander Brigadier General John McColl reported that troop strength now stood at 2,000 and could grow to 5,000 from 17 nations by the end of February.

Before departing Afghanistan for Iran, the Secretary-General toured West Kabul, which suffered massive destruction in the civil war of the early 1990s. Mr. Annan also announced the appointment of Nigel Fisher, the current Regional Coordinator for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as his Deputy Special Representative for Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan.