US envoy says Afghanistan to be at heart of Obama's foreign policy

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Kabul, Nov 6 : Afghanistan will be at the heart of US president-elect Barack Obama's foreign policy, and the new incumbent in the White House will have a greater engagement with the war-torn country, said US envoy in Kabul William Wood.

The US ambassador also predicted "new interesting initiatives to build on the rapidly improving relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan".

"I expect there will be a continuation, a commitment to Afghanistan, there will be a renewed and deepened dialogue with the government of Afghanistan. I expect that just as Afghanistan was part of Senator Obama's principal trip abroad during the campaign, it will be a centrepiece of President Obama's foreign policy," the Daily Times quoted Wood as telling reporters in Kabul last evening.

Wood said that Obama left Afghanistan reconfirmed in his dedication to the future of the country. "That commitment extends from security to development, to governance, to human rights, so that Afghanistan will be a safer, more prosperous and happier country for all of its citizens," added Wood.

Meanwhile, Afghans welcomed Obama's election victory, saying they looked forward to a "greater focus and new strategy" on the war with Taliban insurgents that has killed at least 4000 people this year alone.

Most Afghans were grateful to President George W Bush when US troops ended the Taliban's austere Islamist rule for sheltering al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks. But, with the war now in its eighth year, Afghans are caught between a deepening and resilient Taliban insurgency on one side and on the other, much feared US and NATO military might which backs an Afghan government most see as corrupt and ineffective.

Commenting on Obama's win, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said: "I applaud the American people ... and hope this election and President Obama's coming into office will bring peace to Afghanistan."

"My first demand from the US president, when he takes office, would be to end civilian casualties in Afghanistan and take the war to places where there are terrorist nests and training centres," Karzai told a press briefing.

The Afghan President said his government had a good relationship with Washington but added that "our basic problem, which caused tensions between us a while ago, is the civilian casualties."

Mounting civilian casualties in the war are tarnishing the image of the international forces and the government as they try to win popular support for the effort against militants. "Our demand is the repetition of demands we have had since long ago and that is a change of the strategy of the war against terrorism," said Karzai.

During his election campaign, Obama was critical of Karzai over his "failure" to tackle widespread corruption, the booming trade in illegal opium and over the effectiveness of his government, all factors, according to him, fueled the Taliban insurgency.

But, Obama pledged a new focus on Afghanistan, which analysts agree the Bush administration neglected by sending troops and vital resources to Iraq, giving the Taliban a chance to regroup and relaunch an insurgency that now threatens the capital.

Women activist in Afghanistan and radio station chief Jamila Mujahid, said: "I'm glad Obama won. He's young, he's energetic, he's spoken of the need to pay more attention to Afghanistan. Bush made a mistake by sending troops and resources to Iraq."

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