Afghanistan Looks to Refine Coordination with U.S.

Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's foreign minister, talks with Renee Montagne about the continued role of U.S.-led coalition forces in the country. He says his government wants a more focused anti-terror strategy with the U.S. and regional neighbor Pakistan.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Votes are still being counted in Afghanistan's legislative election. The vote will finally put into place a parliament, the first to be popularly elected in that country. And as he waited for the results, President Hamid Karzai made news last week when he challenged one key aspect of the US military strategy there: air strikes aimed at terrorists which are also killing civilians. His comments were widely seen as a demand to end air strikes. Afghanistan's foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, is in Washington, DC. I asked him about Karzai's statement.

Mr. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH (Foreign Minister, Afghanistan): I don't think that, in the way that it was interpreted, that President Karzai had asked for a full stop of air bombardment. I think...

MONTAGNE: Wait, are you saying he was misquoted?

Mr. ABDULLAH: I think misinterpreted, because another interpretation was that he had asked foreign troops to leave, which wasn't the case. I think he had asked for better coordination, which I think we all agree, and there has been a lot of improvement in that. If there is further need for coordination, I think that's what we need to do. So that's all what it's about.

MONTAGNE: This year has had more deaths from violence than any really since the Taliban were driven out. President Karzai has been quoted as saying, though, "there is not a big need for military activity in Afghanistan. The nature of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan has changed." Explain that to us.

Mr. ABDULLAH: When we started in 2001, Afghanistan was the global capital of al-Qaeda. It was turned into such a situation. So things which were needed at that time or in the course of years to come, the tactics, the requirements of the operation, everything changed. It started changing.

MONTAGNE: Now your government says it has a problem with its nearest neighbor, that a network in Pakistan has aided the insurgency's survival in Afghanistan. What details does the government have on training camps operating in Pakistan, on sending fighters into Afghanistan?

Mr. ABDULLAH: Normally, we don't go on the record on these security-related matters, but there are concerns, of course. A terrorist or a Taliban leader, when he's active against Afghanistan, it means he's also active against the country which they are presiding over. So we are working, and we need to work with our neighboring country Pakistan in order to overcome the remaining challenges.

MONTAGNE: Well, it's probably important to say that Pakistan has and does vehemently deny that insurgents or terrorists are trained or exported from there. But President Karzai himself has said that, and I'm quoting him, "US forces should focus their efforts on where these terrorists are trained." And that is a not-so-veiled reference to Pakistan.

Mr. ABDULLAH: I should say that in the public, there have been views on that, but we also know that there are problems. There are issues which have to be addressed. For example, when recently President Musharraf, during his visit to the United States, he suggested that they can fence the borders...

MONTAGNE: Right, put fences, put a wall along some of the borders, which are in the mountains, of course.

Mr. ABDULLAH: Well, it's meant that, yes, we will be doing everything here in order to stop these terrorists from infiltrating Afghanistan. But the issue is that--how to address it and how to give it the priority. And that's part of our effort, and that's what President Karzai means, and the focus has to be given by all sides.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Abdullah, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. ABDULLAH: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: Abdullah Abdullah is the foreign minister of Afghanistan. He's in Washington, DC, this week.

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