- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, called on members of Congress yesterday not to subject U.S. aid for his country to any conditions, but lawmakers, concerned the money could be misspent, were reluctant to promise Kabul special treatment.

"Putting conditions is no good," Mr. Karzai told reporters at the National Press Club. "We are asking for a good partnership. … If somebody says, 'I'm putting a condition on you,' that means they don't recognize the work you have done already in other areas. And we don't like that."

While members of both the House and Senate, who met with the Afghan leader yesterday, refrained from directly responding to his comment, congressional sources said the legislature was accountable to the American people for all foreign aid it appropriated and even more so after September 11.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, last month began a campaign to toughen the terms for foreign-aid funding, which now "reflects a distressing attitude of business-as-usual."

"The fault, I believe, lies with our inability as a nation to relinquish long-held conventional wisdom about foreign aid and recognize that the changing global environment requires a revamping of our foreign policy," Mr. Byrd said in a Dec. 20 statement.

"We must move away from using dollars to symbolize the strength of our relations with other countries and instead focus our energies and resources on promoting a new understanding of foreign policy that complements and enhances our global war on terrorism," he said.

Mr. Karzai, who made his remarks in response to some lawmakers' attempts to link U.S. assistance to suspending poppy and heroin production in Afghanistan, said, "Congress need not worry about that.

"We will definitely stop it, with or without international help," he said. "The question of poppies is more a concern to us than it is to anybody else. The Afghan farmers probably don't get more than they would get from wheat or potatoes or tomatoes. The beneficiaries are the drug dealers, the big fish."

Mr. Karzai said he had come to Washington "to thank the U.S. people for the help they gave us in the fight against terrorism and providing us the help to liberate our country." He pledged to remain committed to the war on terrorism and predicted that democracy would thrive in Afghanistan and elections would be held in two years.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there is "genuine support" in Congress for helping with the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country.

"With our help, the presence of the U.S. military on the ground and an international force, and immediate aid, as well as some long-term rebuilding commitment and donations, I have no doubt that Afghanistan will take its rightful place among nations as a stable and positive influence in the region, with a commitment to root out the remainder of the Taliban and al Qaeda," Mr. Biden told reporters.

Mr. Karzai, who met with President Bush on Monday and was scheduled to visit London tomorrow for talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said his administration would not interfere with the work of a commission that was to choose members of a grand national assembly.

The assembly will convene in May to elect a government that will serve for two years while a constitution is drafted. Mr. Karzai was said to favor establishment of a strong central authority similar to the one in place before 1973 when the Afghan monarch, King Mohammed Zahir Shah, was overthrown.

Offering his opinion on a debate in the Bush administration, Mr. Karzai said Taliban and al Qaeda members held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, were "criminals," not prisoners of war.

"They brutalized Afghanistan," he said. "They killed our people. They destroyed our land. There was no war there. It was plain killing fields and these people were perpetrators of that atrocity."

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