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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We're going to hear now, from the man who mounted a strong challenge to Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan's presidential election. Abdullah Abdullah got millions of votes in an election marred by fraud, and then he walked away from a runoff saying it couldn't be possibly be fair.

Since that vote last year, he's been the face of the political opposition. Abdullah is now in a visit to Washington meeting with members of Congress. He joined us in our studio to talk about his country and NATO's upcoming effort in Kandahar to push out the Taliban and bring in an Afghan government.

It's a strategy that's been difficult to pull off elsewhere. Do you think it's possible for a civilian government, which is vigorous enough and honest enough, to be put in place in Kandahar after a military effort?

Dr. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH (Former Foreign Minister, Afghanistan): It is absolutely possible, but at the same time if we're talking about the political world and the Afghan leadership, President Karzai included, that's the question. And in this case, I don't think President Karzai is looking into the situation the way that we look at it or the people of Kandahar are looking at it, which they rank corruption and bad governance as the problem number one.

Even before Taliban and al-Qaida, that's in the eyes of the people in Kandahar. So, the government of Afghanistan is not looking at it from that angle. That makes it problematic.

MONTAGNE: It sounds like the trick is whether the Karzai government is willing now or can be persuaded to deliver on a good government there.

Dr. ABDULLAH: Absolutely.

MONTAGNE: Dr. Abdullah, when you ran for election, you drew crowds of thousands and tens of thousands of Afghans, excited about you and your candidacy, but also excited about the whole campaign process. We know fraud ultimately left a cloud over that vote. On the other hand, you and others have been free to organize a democratic political opposition. How far have you been able to get?

Dr. ABDULLAH: Part of it is the achievements of the people of Afghanistan and the awareness about the rights of citizens - women's rights, the right to vote. This movement - democratic movement, in Afghanistan cannot be stopped. We have laid the foundation for a national alliance for change in hope.

We have members in the existing parliament of Afghanistan. We're going to have candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections and hopefully one day we'll be able to deliver, to the people, based on their votes.

MONTAGNE: Do you have high hopes for this upcoming parliamentary election, which is, at the moment, scheduled for September but should happen in the fall?

Dr. ABDULLAH: We are hopeful, but at the same time we are concerned. We don't want to go through the same exercise as we went through during the presidential elections, in terms of fraud. That's the concern.

MONTAGNE: Just one last question as you return to the war. General Stanley McChrystal said, very recently, that the Taliban weren't winning but they weren't losing. Effectively, he said at this moment in time it was something of a stalemate. What in your view would be the repercussions if indeed the pullout of U.S. troops and NATO troops begins in the summer of 2011? Not that long - a little over a year from now.

Dr. ABDULLAH: First of all, I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the families of those soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. There is no word that one can express that sympathy as well as gratitude, for that as well as generous contributions that the U.S. has been making.

In terms of Taliban are not winning and they are not losing; today, with over 14 nations having soldiers there and billions of dollars being pulled in, that's not a sufficient achievement. That has to change in order to lay the foundation for a stable country so your troops can return back to your soil, sooner rather than later.

The repercussion of premature withdrawal, let's say today, tomorrow, before we have a stable system which is sanctioned for the people, will put all the investment in vain.

MONTAGNE: Is 2011 premature?

Dr. ABDULLAH: My interest is in the circumstances that it is happening, whether by 2011, enough improvement has been made, including in the commitment of the Afghan government, or whether the U.S. administration has engaged the Afghan government in a way to make sure that while additional forces are there, the Afghan government also delivers, in its own part, to make any strategy successful.

MONTAGNE: Dr. Abdullah, thank you very much.

Dr. ABDULLAH: You're welcome. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Abdullah Abdullah was the foreign minister in the first years of the Karzai government. He was the main challenger to President Karzai in last year's presidential election.

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