Annan to boost Afghan morale
KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has arrived in the Afghan capital of Kabul to meet with officials of the interim government and leaders of the peacekeeping force.
It is the first tour of Afghanistan by a U.N. chief in more than 40 years and is seen as a morale booster to the post-Taliban government and its leader Hamid Karzai.
Annan will "congratulate the leaders of the interim administration for the job that they have been doing under very difficult circumstances, over the past month, with few resources," U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a press release.
The U.N. chief is on the second leg of a trip to the region that began in Pakistan and will take him also to Iran, in a tour aimed at convincing both nations to cease their long running practice of meddling in internal Afghan politics.
In his visit to Afghanistan, he will "express his solidarity for the people of Afghanistan in their time of need ... To see for himself the hardships that they have suffered," Fawzi said.
Annan will be briefed on U.N. efforts to rebuild the country, as part of a regional tour aimed partly at convincing Afghanistan's neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, to end their long practice of meddling in internal politics.
He was met at Kabul's airport Friday morning by a team of mine clearance experts -- a symbol of one of the U.N.'s main tasks in the war-ravaged country.
Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined nations in the world, with hundreds of people every years killed or maimed by the devices.
He is scheduled to meet with heads of U.N. agencies before holding talks with Karzai and other government officials.
Also, he will meet commanders of the British-led international peacekeeping force that is patrolling the streets of the capital.
"We've made a good start [in Afghanistan], but there are many hurdles ahead of us," Annan said before his arrival.
"I hope we can count on sustained international support. A stable Afghanistan ... is in the interest of all its neighbors."
Annan is also to visit a girls' school, a symbol of the new Afghanistan.
"Education for girls … under the Taliban was non-existent, and it is an important message that Mr. Annan is sending to the people of Afghanistan and to the international community by visiting this girls' school," Fawzi said.
The secretary general arrived in Kabul from Islamabad where, on Thursday, he called for a twin-track approach to defusing the current crisis between India and Pakistan.
On the one hand the two nuclear rivals, who have together massed more than a million troops along their common border, must seek an immediate military de-escalation -- but he said that alone would not be enough.
S. Asian peace efforts
At the same time he called on both countries to make "sustained and determined" efforts towards resolving their problems through dialogue -- particularly their rivalry over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
"The world does not want another crisis in a few weeks or a few months time" he said.
"Pakistan and India have much in common, much to lose from tension and confrontation, and much to gain through cooperation."
India and Pakistan have been on a war footing for several weeks following the December 13 suicide attack on the Indian parliament which New Delhi has blamed on militant groups it says are backed by Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
After a brief lull, tensions were in danger of flaring again this week following an attack Tuesday on a U.S. government building in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, Annan praised Islamabad's efforts so far in the war on terrorism and its steps toward a full democracy.
Pointing to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's speech two week ago announcing strong anti-terrorism measures, Annan called for "sustained and determined action against extremist armed groups" in the region.
Sattar, speaking before Annan, said that Pakistan was "ready to enter into bilateral negotiations, as well as utilize any of the other peaceful means for impartial settlement of disputes."
Pakistan and India, at odds over Kashmir for half a century, have fought two wars over the majority Muslim Himalayan region.
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