Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought to stiffen American resolve to fight the war on terror yesterday, comparing the U.S. liberation of Afghanistan to that of Europe during World War II and telling a joint session of Congress that American military power is a force for good.

“Today, the United States is once again leading the global effort to defeat terrorism and extremism. Afghanistan is a central front in this war against terrorism. The Afghan peoples are and will remain with you in this struggle,” Mr. Karzai, who leads the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan, told Congress yesterday morning.

He then met with President Bush at the White House, where Mr. Bush called Afghanistan the “first victory in the war on terror.” He said that nation’s progress since the ouster of the Taliban in December 2001 makes it a model for Iraq.

“Out of kind of the desperate straits that the Afghan people found themselves, it’s now a welcoming society beginning to grow. And the same thing’s going to happen in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said at a Rose Garden press conference.

The president laid out a five-point plan to help Afghanistan, including a training program for newly elected Afghan politicians; $4 million to create a women’s teacher training institute in Kabul; expanded cultural exchange programs; $5 million to fund training programs and small business grants for women; and striving to reach a free trade agreement.

“The road ahead for Afghanistan is still long and difficult, yet the Afghan people can know that their country will never be abandoned to terrorists and killers. The world and the United States stands with them as partners in their quest for peace and prosperity and stability and democracy,” Mr. Bush said.

Elections are scheduled for September, and Mr. Karzai proudly told both Mr. Bush and Congress that more than one-third of those who have registered to vote are women, and in one region women make up more than half of registered voters.

Democrats have said Mr. Bush has hurt the continuing war on terror in Afghanistan by diverting attention and resources to Iraq, and some have even said he has shirked the search for Osama bin Laden by focusing on Iraq.

“It’s a mission that’s been put on the back burner for a long time in Washington,” Wesley Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate, said yesterday. The retired general now supports Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Violence continues in Afghanistan, with frequent clashes between coalition forces and remnants of the Taliban regime, backed by some local ethnic group leaders.

Asked about reports that he is negotiating with regional leaders, Mr. Karzai said as president he must talk with anyone who can help move the country toward stability, but he has not cut deals with anyone.

“No coalitions have been made, and no coalition will be made. And they did not ask for it,” he said. “First of all, we don’t call them ‘warlords.’ Some of those people are respected leaders of the Afghan resistance. Some of them are former presidents. And we respect them in Afghanistan.”

Mr. Karzai said Afghanistan still is working through problems, particularly the production and export of narcotics.

“Drug profits finance private militias, terrorists and extremists. Drug profits undermine our effort to build a healthy and legitimate national economy. Drugs threaten the lives and future of children — yours and ours. We are determined to cleanse Afghanistan from this menace,” he said.

In his address to Congress, Mr. Karzai painted a picture of American military might as a benevolent and humane force.

He told a story about two U.S. soldiers who were traveling in Kandahar a couple of months ago when a terrorist threw a grenade into their vehicle. Rather than throw the grenade back onto the street, where it would have exploded among Afghan civilians, the soldiers stuck it under their seat, where it exploded, badly injuring the two men.

Mr. Karzai said that is the image he holds of American military power: “To us, this is also the example of heroism and care for humanity, and we are proud of these two American soldiers.”

He also told a story about a U.S. bomb that went astray in December 2001, killing 20 Afghans and four U.S. soldiers.

He said in the aftermath of that, an old man walked up to him and told him to convey a message to the Americans: “Tell them that in a war like this, things like that happen. Tell them not to lose heart. Tell them that we shall continue to fight, and we must win.”

Fewer than half of the senators, and far less than half of the House, attended yesterday’s address, but those that did, and the staffers that filled the other seats, gave Mr. Karzai a strong standing ovation for both stories.

Mr. Karzai also told reporters that if Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the former Taliban government in Afghanistan, are caught, he will consult with international leaders to decide how and where they should be tried.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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