- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

KABUL (AP) - President Hamid Karzai warned the international community Wednesday against meddling in Afghanistan’s politics as it prepares for a presidential election later this year, saying the country is not “a puppet state.”

Karzai faces an election in August, at a time when the country is embroiled in a vicious Taliban-led insurgency and the performance of his government has been criticized by President Barack Obama’s administration and other Western capitals as inefficient and corrupt.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance needs four more battalions in addition to nearly 60,000 troops already in the country to provide security for the August election. A battalion normally includes 750 to 850 soldiers.

Speaking alongside de Hoop Scheffer, Karzai told a news conference in Kabul that his government’s foreign partners should respect and honor his country’s independence.

Karzai said he appreciates the work that the U.S. and other members of the international community have done to fight terrorism and rebuild the country.

But, without singling out any nation, he accused some of proposing to weaken the central government.

“That is not their job,” Karzai said.

“The issue of governance and the creation of (a mechanism for) good governance is the work of the Afghan people,” Karzai said. “Afghanistan … will never be a puppet state.”

Karzai was responding to a question from an Afghan journalist who suggested that international forces operating in the provinces were trying to directly support local leaders there.

Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Afghanistan and Iraq, recently told The New York Times that he had warned the Obama administration against any attempts to focus on local areas at the expense of the central government.

“Some will regard it as an effort to break up the Afghan state, which would be regarded as hostile policy,” Khalilzad, who is an Afghan-American, told the newspaper in January.

As the new U.S. administration shifts the focus from the Iraq war to Afghanistan, Obama has ordered a review of America’s strategy in the region. The results of the review are expected later this month.

In response to a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, Obama has also ordered thousands of new troops to the country’s south _ the Taliban’s heartland _ this year and his administration has urged other NATO allies to do more.

To succeed, Karzai said, the international community needs the support of all Afghans.

“With Afghanistan there should be respect and honor, and we will also respect and honor our allies,” Karzai said. “Afghanistan now is the owner of its land and nobody can disrupt our country.”

___

Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt and Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.

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