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Afghan and U.S. Officials Conclude Strategic Partnership Talks

On March 13, American and Afghan delegations concluded the second round of the U.S. – Afghan Strategic Partnership talks in Kabul at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Representing the U.S. government were a team of officials lead by Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher and U.S. Ambassador Ronald Neumann.

On the Afghan side, chairs included Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kabir Farrahi. They were joined by Minister of Finance Dr. Anwar- ul- Haq Ahadi, Minister of Justice Sarwar Danish, Minister of Economy Mohammed Jalil Shams and the head of Afghansitan’s National Security Council Zalmai Rassoul.

The Afghan and American delegations agreed that power was a top priority, and that Kabul needs an additional 300 megawatts of energy to service whole city. The Afghan delegation stated that the infrastructure in the country was still insufficient, and recommended increasing funding and attention to road building in the provinces. The delegations discussed the advantages and effectiveness of Afghanistan’s new tax law and requested further U.S. assistance developing standards, modernizing customs, and improving regional economic cooperation and private sector development.

The delegations discussed the establishment of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) in order to support economic prosperity in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Following U.S. Congressional approval, ROZs will offer duty-free U.S. market access and create new employment opportunities in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Strategic Partnership talks followed consultations in Washington, D.C. in March of 2006, and focused on Security, Democracy & Governance, and Prosperity. Working groups on each of these themes were held in both Kabul and the United States in advance of the talks, with the Kabul forum serving as an opportunity to share results and collaborate on top priority issues. A working lunch on Counter narcotics was followed by a press conference with remarks by Minister Wardak, Deputy Minister Farrahi, Undersecretary Edelman and Deputy Assistant Secretary Boucher.

In his opening statement, Minister Wardak thanked the U.S. delegation for their continued commitment to Afghanistan. “Our government wants to move toward self-sustainability. We don’t want to be a permanent burden on you. We hope to be able to repay our debts of gratitude to those who have helped us in these darkest days,” he said.

Undersecretary Edelman expressed his government’s hopes to fund more schools, help the Afghan National Army and Police enhance security, and provide more economic development, and informed the audience that such resources will be provided upon Congressional approval for new funds for Afghanistan. Deputy Assistant Secretary Boucher reiterated the United States’ commitment to revitalizing Afghanistan’s economy in hopes of turning the country into a major trade center. “Afghanistan can play a strategic role in this region. It can become a hub rather than a barrier. We want to contribute to this vision for Afghanistan,” he said.

Minister of Justice Danish summarized the firm steps that have been taken by the Afghan Supreme Court and the Attorney General in order to rout out corruption. On the issue of corruption, Minister Danish said, “Anti-corruption is at the top of Afghan government agenda. Many government institutions have developed mechanisms to tackle this issue. We understand however that corruption is a complex issue and has many factors. The President has appointed a state commission headed by the Chief Justice, and the commission’s anti-corruption strategy is in the final stages of development.”

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