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8/14/04 - RUMSFELD IN AFGHANISTAN - 2004-08-16

Over nine-and-a-half million Afghans have registered to vote for the October 9th presidential election, the next step in Afghanistan’s drive for a constitutional, representative government. Parliamentary elections will take place next spring.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was in Afghanistan for talks with interim President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Rumsfeld said the number of Afghans who have registered to vote so far has exceeded expectations:

“When one thinks about it and recognizes that there has been a campaign of intimidation -- attempts to dissuade people from registering -- the surge in registration that has taken place, throughout the country I might say, has to be a very vivid demonstration of the Afghan people’s determination to make democracy work.”

Mr. Rumsfeld says that each time he visits Afghanistan, he sees more signs of progress:

“. . .the energy one sees on the streets, the new stores and kiosks, the cars, the activity of the people. It is so clear that the Afghan people are winning the struggle to rebuild this nation. And that is encouraging and it suggests a very bright future.”

President Karzai says al-Qaida terrorists, remnants of the former extremist Taleban regime, and rival militias are still trying to disrupt the election in an effort to destroy Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy:

“We have security problems. We still have [terrorists] attacking us. But the progress we are making is because the Afghan people have the great will and enthusiasm to make this country a place [where] we all can live in good will and opportunity.”

The United States is committed to helping the Afghan people realize their dream of stability and democracy. President George W. Bush put it this way: “The road ahead for Afghanistan is still long and difficult,” he said. “Yet the Afghan people can know that their country will never be abandoned to terrorists and killers.”