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Powell Makes Historic Visit to Afghanistan

The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, made a historic visit to Afghanistan on Thursday and conferred with the post-Taliban administration on the country's future.

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Colin Powell promises Afghanistan support in "this crisis and the future"

US Secretary of State Colin Powell pledged on Thursday Washington would stay committed to Afghanistan, after interim leader Hamid Karzai voiced fears that his people were unsure about America’s further support.

Speaking to the press after meeting Afghan leaders from the country’s new government, Powell said "we will be with you in this current crisis and for the future".

"We are comitted to doing everything we can to assist you in this time of transition to a new Afghanistan, an Afghanistan where people will be able to live in peace and security," he added.

The US military will continue to pursue fighters from al-Qaida, blamed for the September 11 New York attacks, and remains of the Taliban network still in Afghanistan. "We don't want to leave any contamination behind," Powell told the press at the joint news conference. "And I think that is in the interests of the Afghan people, and certainly the mission we came here to perform."

A significant contribution

The US plans a "significant" contribution to a reconstruction programme for Afghanistan, which the World Bank estimates could cost 15 billion dollars over a 10-year period.

Powell is expected to announce the figure at a meeting of potential donor countries in Tokyo on Monday, where aid countries will be pressed to put up money immediately to rebuild the Afghanistan.

The US Secretary of State also announced that Afghan funds, which were frozen in the United States during the Taliban era, would be made available to the new government "in a matter of days".

Crackdown on corruption

Mr Karzai promised to be "very, very rough" against corruption as Afghanistan tries to build up a banking system and government institutions that will enable the country to rejoin the world as a "strong, stable member".

But the interim government is bankrupt, with many ministries lacking simple essentials such as pens and paper to start the process of administration.

Still anxious

Mr Powell’s visit comes at a time of deep anxiety in Afghanistan, with much of the country still destabilised in the aftermath of the American campaign.

Fears prevail within the population that now the Taliban have been crushed, the US will turn its attention elsewhere.

The Afghan people want a long-term partnership with the United States that would help the country "stand on its own feet and continue to fight against terrorism or the return of terrorism in any form to this country or to this region," Mr Karzai said on Thursday.

A historic visit

Powell’s trip to Afghanistan is the first by an American secretary of state since Henry Kissinger visited the country 26 years ago.

Later on Thursday Powell travels on to Delhi, in an attempt to defuse the tense military stand-off in Kashmir.

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