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Deiss visits Afghanistan

Kabul has been largely destroyed by years of fighting

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has flown to the Afghan capital, Kabul, as part of a week-long tour of Asia.

Deiss - who will also visit Bhutan and India during his tour - flew to Kabul on Wednesday on a one-day trip after questions over security were resolved.

He is due to hold talks with the UN's special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Afghanistan's interim foreign minister, Mohammad Rahim Sherzai. The Swiss government is currently supporting the new Afghan government to the tune of SFr1 million.

All four countries on Deiss's itinerary are recipients of Swiss humanitarian and development aid. The foreign minister says one of the key aims of his diplomatic mission will be to strengthen political ties with the region as a whole.

"The [South Asia] region has gained great importance on the political level," Deiss said. "And I am trying to increase political dialogue with all these countries."

Deiss is also likely to discuss the issues of human rights and the global fight against terrorism during a series of high-level talks in each country.

The visit is his second tour of the region within two weeks. Earlier this month led a mission to the central Asian republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

First stop Kabul ?

Deiss is first scheduled to meet with Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, where he will discuss Switzerland's humanitarian aid effort to the country.

"For the moment, we are especially active in the field of humanitarian activities," the foreign minister said in an interview with swissinfo.

Deiss said he hoped to use his visit to the Afghan capital, Kabul, to highlight the plight of women and to focus attention on the need for projects that would "help [Afghan] women to reintegrate into society".

"For us, it is also very important to see what problems there are concerning drug production and trafficking...and to have a political discussion about the future of Afghanistan," Deiss explained.

The foreign minister also made it clear he would be looking to assess "to what extent" Afghanistan's interim government is able to control the entire country.

The Swiss government has pledged a total of SFr15 million during 2002 to help the authorities in Kabul build up an infrastructure of basic public services across the country.

Strengthening political dialogue

After visiting Afghanistan, Deiss is scheduled to fly to Pakistan and India, where he expects to strengthen bilateral relations with both countries.

"The immediate objective is to have political dialogue of high quality," Deiss said.

"We have been doing this for some time the contacts exist, we know each other and we hope to go very far with this discussion," he added.

One of the key priorities for the Swiss government, Deiss says, is to try to link Switzerland's international aid effort with closer bilateral relations on a diplomatic level.

Commitment to Bhutan

Before finishing his trip in India, Deiss will stop in Bhutan - a country with a population of only 700,000 and the smallest of Switzerland's overseas development aid partners.

"Bhutan is a small country, smaller even than Switzerland," Deiss said, "but we have many common ties and I think we can have a visible influence on their economy and other activities."

"There are also internal problems we want to discuss with them...[as well as] the evolution of the refugee problem which still exists in the region between Nepal and Bhutan."

by Jonathan Summerton and Ramsey Zarifeh

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