- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

NEW YORK — Hours after President Bush praised Afghanistan as a model for future democracies, Afghan President Hamid Karzai took the podium of the U.N. General Assembly to enumerate the fragile milestones that his country has achieved.

Speaking six weeks before the U.S. election and about two weeks before the Afghanistan’s first popular presidential election, the two leaders sounded similar notes of concern over terrorism and called on world leaders to continue supporting Afghanistan’s democratic aspirations.

“I am delighted to report to you that 18 days from today, our people will go to the polls for the first time to elect their president, marking the most significant milestone in our journey,” Mr. Karzai told the afternoon session of the U.N. General Assembly debate yesterday.

He enumerated accomplishments that would have been unthinkable under the Taliban: 3.5 million Afghan refugees have returned, and 10 million Afghans have registered to vote that will be 25 percent female.

Thousands of former combatants have been demobilized, and much of the heavy weaponry has been collected from the Kabul region, he said, without mentioning the largely lawless tracts of the country’s western and southeastern regions.

However, he noted, the Afghan people are ravaged by poverty, maternal and infant mortality, and illiteracy.

Mr. Karzai also warned that the “the remnants of terrorism” challenge Afghanistan’s ability to build a stable and democratic society.

“As long as terrorism continues to exist in our region, neither Afghanistan nor our neighbors — nor, indeed, the rest of the world — can be safe,” he said. “Eliminating the remnants of terrorism in Afghanistan and in the region requires not only continued support from the international community, but also strong and sincere commitment from other countries in the region.”

He said: “Drug profits finance terrorism and undermine our efforts to build a healthy and legitimate economy.

“Afghanistan is fully committed to eliminating [the drug] menace; however, we cannot succeed without the strong partnership of the international community.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is visiting New York and Washington this week to make similar pleas for financial and security assistance.

As Mr. Karzai and Mr. Allawi watched from their delegations’ tables in the grand General Assembly chambers, Mr. Bush praised both nations as “a model for the broader Middle East.”

“Not long ago, outlaw regimes in Baghdad and Kabul threatened the peace and sponsored terrorists. … Today, the Iraqi and Afghan people are on the path to democracy and freedom,” Mr. Bush said.

Both countries are roiled by terrorist attacks against civilians and difficulties in creating the basic infrastructure required in a modern democracy.

A deputy to Mr. Karzai escaped a roadside bombing in Afghanistan yesterday, just four days after Mr. Karzai himself was unsuccessfully targeted.

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