U.S. operations in Afghanistan not to end soon: Dostum

NEW DELHI, JAN. 31. The visiting Deputy Defence Minister of the Interim Government in Afghanistan, Rashid Dostum, has specified that he does not expect the U.S. to end its operations in Afghanistan till some final shape is given to the search for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Gen. Dostum, who heads the Uzbek faction in the Northern Alliance, said: ``Since no time-frame was fixed, I think it is only logical if they (Americans) remain until the destiny of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden is decided.'' Reflecting on the campaign against terrorism, which resulted in the defeat of the Taliban regime, Gen. Dostum said he was satisfied by the way military operations were carried out and believed that it had become much more difficult for terrorists to use Afghanistan as a base in the future.

Visibly unimpressed by suggestions in certain quarters that the Afghan campaign was far from over, Gen. Dostum sought to put things in perspective by focussing on whether terrorism could flourish after this war. ``In that respect, I feel that the capacity of terrorist organisations to organise terrorist attacks has been totally destroyed now. Despite the resistance they may be providing, I don't see them posing any real threat. But the search for Mullah Omar and Osama must continue as they are the main criminals of the war.''

However, on being asked about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, Gen. Dostum took a non-committal stance. ``I don't know where they are,'' was all he preferred to say about the ongoing search operations.

Gen. Dostum, who arrived in India on an official visit on Wednesday, held several meetings with officials including the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, and the Foreign Secretary, Chokila Iyer, today. Apart from exchanging notes on the Afghan situation, the Uzbek leader said he held fruitful discussions on India's role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

``India has always been a friendly country and we believe that it can play a significant role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. In particular, we would like assistance from India in health and education, which have suffered a lot during the Taliban rule.''

Further, he said he discussed the feasibilities of India opening a consulate at Mazaar-e-Sharif. ``When India reopened its embassy in Kabul, it had also expressed the willingness to open a consulate in Mazaar. I think this would only strengthen the ties between both countries.'' Acknowledging the initiatives taken by India till now, Gen. Dostum singled out the efforts of Indian doctors for praise. ``We appreciate the humanitarian projects undertaken by India in Afghanistan, particularly in the northern parts. We are very happy that India has reactivated one of its groups in Mazaar-e-Sharif, which makes artificial limbs. The war has left back many disabled people there and these limbs are enabling thousands of such people to return to normal life.''

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