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6/17/04 - PROGRESS IN AFGHANISTAN - 2004-06-18

In September, the people of Afghanistan will go to the polls to elect a president and a parliament. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, came to Washington this month to address the U.S. Congress and meet with President George W. Bush. Mr. Karzai thanked the U.S. for helping Afghanistan rebuild after years of Taleban repression and misrule:

“We have a constitution...which is the most enlightened in that part of the world. And that constitution has been made possible because of the liberation that you helped us gain and because of the stability that the United States helped us have in Afghanistan. As a result of that, we have a constitution that sets us as an example of an Islamic democratic state.”

But, says President Karzai, “Afghanistan has problems, too”:

“Among the problems is the question of drugs. The Afghan government is adamant. The Afghan people are adamant to fight this menace, to end it in Afghanistan and receive your help in that.”

Despite the problems, there is progress in many areas. Afghanistan is no longer a refuge for al-Qaida terrorists. Clean water is available in many parts of the country. Hospitals and clinics have been rehabilitated. Millions of Afghan children have been vaccinated against measles and polio. Three years ago, Afghan women were severely oppressed by the extremist Taleban regime. Most women were not allowed to work outside the home and girls were not allowed to go to school. In many cases, women were even denied what little medical treatment was available.

Today, says President Bush, Afghan girls are going to school, and women’s rights are protected in Afghanistan’s constitution:

“Women were beaten for wearing brightly-colored shoes. Even the playing of music and the flying of kites were outlawed. Today, we witness the rebirth of a vibrant Afghan culture. Music fills the marketplaces, and people are free to come together to celebrate in [the] open.”

“The road ahead for Afghanistan is still long and difficult,” says President Bush. “Yet the Afghan people can know that their country will never be abandoned to terrorists and killers. The world and the United States stand with them as partners in their quest for peace and prosperity, and stability and democracy.”