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U.S. Focuses on Future of Afghanistan

Asia: At Shanghai summit, Powell will lobby Pacific Rim nations for financial, humanitarian support to rebuild war-torn nation.


NEW DELHI — After setting in motion a post-Taliban strategy with a pivotal role for the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is launching a worldwide appeal for financial and humanitarian support to rebuild war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Powell wrapped up two days of intense diplomacy in South Asia on Wednesday and will begin the second phase of his effort today during talks with 20 Pacific Rim counterparts at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Shanghai.

The issue has special urgency, Powell said, because both the normally brutal Afghan winter and Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, begin in late November. He said the United States wants to help Afghans "reconstruct a life for themselves."

But Powell denied that the United States would become enmeshed in "nation-building" with troops, as it has done in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's main republic. "This is helping the international community helping the people of Afghanistan to create hopeful conditions within the country so that they are not vulnerable to this kind of threat again in the future," Powell said.

Despite Asia's economic woes, the United States is looking for significant contributions, especially from wealthier countries such as Japan, as a sign of the region's support for both the U.S.-led war on terrorism and a beleaguered Asian neighbor.

As Powell forges ahead on the economic and humanitarian front, his staff is beginning intense negotiations with the United Nations on Afghanistan's political future.

Because of its long experience in places such as Cambodia and East Timor, Powell said, the world body is best suited to oversee the transition.

The United Nations would provide "a sense of order" while a new, broad-based "assemblage of individuals and leaders representing all aspects of Afghan society" gets organized and develops the capability to govern, he told reporters traveling with him.

The administration's point man in efforts to foster a post-Taliban government, State Department policy planning chief Richard Haass, meets in New York today with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. specialist on Afghanistan.

"This is what the U.N. does. It also gives a vehicle for all the players to talk to as [the Taliban collapse] gets closer to reality," a senior State Department official traveling with Powell said Wednesday.

Balancing Politics

State Department officials in Washington say that the U.S. objective is to devise a broad-based interim government that can balance Afghanistan's bewildering ethnic politics.

U.S. objectives are sweeping: End the use of Afghanistan as a haven for terrorists, prevent the country from destabilizing the region, and stop production and export of opium and heroin.

Pakistan clearly expects to play a major role in forming a new government for Afghanistan. But a State Department official in Washington said the United States also must balance the interests of Afghanistan's other neighbors as well as the country's often warring tribes and ethnic groups.

Analysts say that the challenges are daunting. "Just to say it's the U.N.'s business doesn't work," said Richard Murphy, the State Department's Middle East and South Asia chief during the Reagan administration.

"The U.S. doing it single-handedly doesn't work either," he added. "Pakistan, Iran and probably India have to play a role. The Pakistanis have made their role dominant since the mid-1990s. They are allergic to the idea that the Northern Alliance will be swept in because it is full of minorities and is supported by Iran and India."

Powell expressed confidence that the Taliban regime is now isolated by all countries in the wider Asian neighborhood and has no chance of maintaining political control.

"When you go from Iran clockwise to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and come all the way around, they are surrounded with no friends. This is putting incredible pressure on the regime," Powell said.

At the United Nations, Brahimi said that despite the complexity of the problem, the world organization would welcome the chance to help.

He said the first priority would be ensuring that there is enough food. He said 1,000 tons of supplies were reaching Afghanistan daily, about half of what is needed.

Brahimi stressed that the United Nations was not interested in assuming the role of a transitional administration or of a peacekeeper.

"We will definitely be doing as much as we can. That is a different thing from actually providing a direct administration for the country," he said. "The Afghans are a very proud people. They don't like to be ordered around by foreigners."

The delicate nature of diplomacy in South Asia was underscored Wednesday as Powell held talks here with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and other senior officials amid renewed tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. At least 36 people have been killed recently.

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