- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, a unifying figure during his interim tenure as the head of the U.S.-backed Afghan administration, was overwhelmingly elected head of state yesterday by a grand national assembly.

"We announce him as the president of the coming interim government," said Ismail Qasim Yar, chairman of the assembly, or loya jirga.

Mr. Karzai has served six months as interim prime minister of the U.N.-organized government that took power after the Muslim fundamentalist Taliban regime was driven from power in December.

Mr. Karzai won 1,295 votes. Masooda Jalal, who worked for the World Food Program and was the only female candidate, received 171 votes, and Mir Mohammed Mahfoz Nadai received 89. The United Nations said 1,575 votes were cast and that 20 were declared invalid.

Mr. Karzai received thunderous applause when the announcement was made placing him at the top of the Afghan administration for the next 18 months until parliamentary elections are organized.

In accepting the nomination before the vote, Mr. Karzai told the delegates he was happy.

"After 25 years, all the Afghans are gathering under one tent. The refugees are coming back. It is a proud moment for me," he said.

The vote for head of state had been pushed back by at least a day after delegates argued Wednesday over the presence of warlords at the loya jirga.

Mr. Karzai was chosen by secret ballot with black-and-white photos of the candidates next to their names.

Before the balloting, Mr. Karzai spoke to the assembled in both Pashto and Dari, the country's two main languages.

"We need security, we need peace, we need stability. We need an administration in control of all of Afghanistan," he said.

"I know many Taliban," he said. "And they were taken over, hijacked by the foreign people," he said, referring al Qaeda and other foreign fighters.

"Those people were against Afghanistan. Those who were responsible for the massacres, those who were responsible for the burning," he said.

The Taliban government was ousted in a U.S.-led military campaign after the September 11 attacks. Such a global spotlight presents a unique opportunity, Mr. Karzai said.

"We want an improved economy. We want the people to trust each other. We want investment in Afghanistan. We want to start a reconstruction program to rebuild the roads, the irrigation channels," he said. "We don't want to miss this chance. This is our best chance for reconstruction."

Next on the assembly's agenda was a decision on how the transitional government will be set up. The meeting is scheduled to end Sunday.

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