BERLIN (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged the
world to stay on track in helping his country toward democracy and
stability as a donors’ conference opened with appeals to make
improving security in the war-ravaged nation a top priority.

Secretary of State Colin Powell offered $1 billion in aid on top
of the $1.2 billion the United States has pledged this year, and
promised “the United States will not abandon you.”

“Afghanistan’s success is the only option for the
United States and for the international community,” Powell
said in a speech.

Karzai came to Berlin with a plan seeking some $28 billion in
aid over the next seven years, and he asked the officials from more
than 50 countries to recommit themselves to “the vision of a
stable, secure and prosperous Afghanistan” that could be
self-sufficient within a decade.

“That requires your sustained assistance,” Karzai
told the conference.

Afghanistan has made great strides since the 2001 U.S.-led
bombing campaign ousted the Taliban regime, but regional warlords
have yet to be disarmed and a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency
persists in the south and east. The country remains among the
world’s poorest.

“The first challenge is the presence of private militia
forces,” Karzai said. “These forces are not only a
challenge to security and stability in Afghanistan, but they also
are a cause of drug cultivation.”

With opium production accounting for about half of
Afghanistan’s economy, Karzai’s government is launching
a fresh drive this month to destroy poppy fields. But further
international help is needed to make the program work, he said.

“Drugs in Afghanistan are threatening the very existence
of the Afghan state,” he said.

While the conference will focus on how far rich countries are
willing to commit new aid money, Afghanistan’s progress on
democratic reforms and the security threats overshadowing planned
September elections are on the agenda.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the gathering of foreign
ministers and senior officials from more than 50 countries to renew
a “firm, long-term commitment” to helping Afghanistan,
including the “enormous” task of organizing the
elections.

“Much has been achieved,” said German Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder, the conference host and leader of a major
aid-giving nation.

“The security situation in the country has improved
— but it is not yet what we would like it to be in some parts
of the country,” he said.

“It is important that the international community today
stress its commitment to a secure, free and democratic
Afghanistan,” he said.

Annan said the election date put pressure on the Afghan
government and the international community.

“Objectives that have eluded the country for two years
must now be achieved in a very short time,” including greater
security to allow all Afghans to vote as well as greater political
freedoms, he said in a message read to the conference by his envoy,
Lakhdar Brahimi.

“Security assistance remains one of the most important
contributions — if not the most important — that the
international community can make,” Annan said.

Karzai himself highlighted “the desire of the Afghan
people for provincial reconstruction teams, for the expanding of
the International Security Assistance Force,” the NATO-led
peacekeeping force.

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