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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 07:02 GMT
Powell boost for new Afghan leader
Afghan leader Hamid Karzai (left) and US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Colin Powell promised "significant" US aid
Colin Powell, the first US secretary of state to visit Kabul for at least 25 years, has pledged Washington's commitment to reconstruction in Afghanistan as the country's interim leader vowed to root out corruption.

You can take that message to the Afghan people, that we are committed

Colin Powell

Speaking at a joint news conference in the Afghan capital with interim leader Hamid Karzai, Mr Powell said President George Bush "is committed to this cause for as long as it takes".

Mr Karzai said his government would be "very tough and rather oppressive" on corruption, to ensure that aid money would not go astray.

"Warlordism is over in Afghanistan," he said.

Mr Powell said he was "moved by the depth of his (Karzai's) commitment to make sure that corruption does not rear its ugly head again".

"I got that assurance from the chairman and all his cabinet," he added.

He said that access to Afghan assets frozen during the campaign against terrorism was "moving along" and the US would make a significant aid contribution in the next few days.

Afghan refugee in Mazar-e-Sharif
Reconstruction is high on the agenda
Work is still going on in Washington to decide how much to contribute when international donors meet in Tokyo next week for a conference on reconstruction, Mr Powell said.

His visit comes in the middle of a South Asia tour, amid efforts to bring Pakistan and India together to resolve their current stand-off over Kashmir.

The secretary of state flew into Bagram airport under heavy military escort, then continued directly to the presidential palace in Kabul by helicopter for talks with Mr Karzai.

Poor security

BBC Afghanistan correspondent Kate Clark says Mr Powell is visiting at a time of deep anxiety, with much of the country still destabilised in the aftermath of the American war on terror.

Security outside the towns has in many places worsened, while control of several provinces is still disputed.

The interim government is bankrupt, with many ministries lacking even pens and paper to start the process of administration.

And there are fears, our correspondent says, that now that the Taleban and Afghanistan-based al-Qaeda militants have been crushed, the US will just turn its attention elsewhere.

In 1992 many Afghans felt abandoned by the US after the defeat of the communist government - left to 10 years of civil war, instability and the use of their country as a training ground for extremists.

The BBC's Ishbel Matheson in Kabul
"Mr Powell said America would help Afghans achieve their dreams of a better future"
The BBC's Jon Leyne
"This was a deeply symbolic visit"
US Secretary of State Colin Powell
"This is a time of challenge for the Afghan people"
Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai
"Mr Powell's visit shows the commitment of the USA"
See also:

17 Jan 02 | South Asia
India awaits Powell visit
16 Jan 02 | South Asia
Afghanistan bans opium production
17 Jan 02 | South Asia
UN sanctions target al-Qaeda
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