- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday urged President Bush not to abandon his nation and to "do more" to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for terrorists.
"I'm here to thank you and the American people," Mr. Karzai said after an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Bush. "I'm also here to ask you to do more for us in making the life of the Afghan people better, more stable, more peaceful.
"I'm also here to tell you that the war against terrorism is going on. We have defeated them, but some elements are still there. And we should go on strong and tough to get them all and free the world from that menace," Mr. Karzai said.
In an exchange with reporters after the meeting, Mr. Bush yesterday also took issue with reports that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is making efforts to destroy banned missiles, as ordered by the United Nations.
"The discussion about these rockets is part of his campaign of deception. See, he'll say, 'I'm not going to destroy the rockets,' and then he'll have a change of mind this weekend and destroy the rockets and say, 'I've disarmed.'
"The rockets are just the tip of the iceberg. The only question at hand is total, complete disarmament, which he is refusing to do," Mr. Bush said.
After a morning phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss Iraq and North Korea, Mr. Bush told the Afghan leader that the United States has "a desire for human life to improve" in Afghanistan and pointed to dramatic improvements in the nation since the U.S.-led coalition of 90 countries swept out the ruling Taliban government over a year ago.
"Over 2 million refugees have returned back to Afghanistan. … Those are people who are expressing their opinion about the future of Afghanistan by making a decision to return home," Mr. Bush said.
The president also said there are now "3 million children going to school in Afghanistan."
"We continue to look forward to working with you to bring not only peace to that part of the world, but a hopeful future for the citizens," he said.
Mr. Karzai said yesterday he is not convinced that Osama bin Laden is alive, but he hopes the al Qaeda leader would appear to answer for his actions "to God and to mankind."
During a news conference at the National Press Club, Mr. Karzai said that he doubted the authenticity of recent audiotapes in which someone claiming to be bin Laden urges Muslims to rally to defend Iraq in case of an attack by U.S. forces. But U.S. officials believe the voice on the latest audiotape is that of bin Laden.
Later, at a Pentagon news conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Mr. Karzai said he had been assured the United States would not lose its focus on his country.
He said Mr. Bush was supportive of his request for U.S. help in rebuilding highways and irrigation and electrical systems, but they did not discuss specific dollar amounts in aid.
While Mr. Bush has often promised Mr. Karzai that the United States will not abandon Afghanistan, the Afghan leader has pointedly warned against a premature U.S. withdrawal.
During testimony Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Mr. Karzai compared an early U.S. exit to the time when occupying Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan in the late 1980s, which left a power vacuum later filled by the Taliban.
"Don't forget us if Iraq happens," Mr. Karzai said. "If you reduce the attention because of Iraq … and if you leave the whole thing to us to fight again, it will be repeating the mistake the United States made during the Soviet occupation.
"Once the Soviets left, the Americans left, the consequence of that was what you saw in Afghanistan, in the United States, and the rest of the world," he said.
Mr. Karzai said that porous borders are allowing "radical forces and al Qaeda and terrorist elements" to sneak back and forth from neighboring Pakistan, and that the problem is getting worse.
Olga Kryzhanovska contributed to this report.


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