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Analysis: Afghan Leader Counsels Patience

Afghan leader and presidential hopeful Hamid Karzai (file photo) [For more on the Afghan elections, see RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated webpage "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05." --> ]

In an interview in Kabul with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on 29 September, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai discussed the upcoming presidential election, the first round of which is scheduled for 9 October. Afghanistan's direct national election pits Karzai against 17 other candidates hoping to become the country's first-ever democratically elected leader.

In his wide-ranging interview, Karzai cautioned that curbing the power of the country's warlords will take time, rejected speculation that he is out to disenfranchise former mujahedin, and suggested that Afghanistan needs something other than a coalition government.

Karzai, widely considered to be the favorite going into the presidential balloting, told RFE/RL that when he was chosen to lead the Afghan Interim Authority by an intra-Afghan meeting convened in Bonn in December 2001, he never thought he would be in a leadership position in his country. But now, three years later, Karzai gave his term as leader of Afghanistan's Interim and Transitional governments positive marks.

Karzai described Afghanistan as a "traditionally democratic society" based on such forms of popularly based decision-making processes as tribal jirgas and local councils. Under the governing system envisaged in the country's new constitution, he said, Afghanistan should enjoy systematized institutions, such as a parliament and free elections, which will allow the people to practice democracy in a more organized manner.
Karzai described Afghanistan as a "traditionally democratic society" based on such forms of popularly based decision-making processes as tribal jirgas and local councils.

Karzai lamented the fact that he has not been able to campaign across the country, citing his heavy workload and security concerns. Karzai escaped near disaster in early September when a rocket narrowly missed his helicopter as it was approaching its destination in the southeastern Afghan city of Gardez. Purported neo-Taliban elements, who have vowed to disrupt the election process, have claimed responsibility for the rocket attack and proclaimed a victory in having forced Karzai to cancel his visit to Gardez. At the time, a frustrated Karzai said he wanted to take control of his own security detail (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004).

Responding to criticism that his administration has not done enough to curtail to power of warlords, Karzai said the rule of people rather than gunmen is possible. But he added that achieving that goal is a gradual process.

In a report released the same day as Karzai's interview, the New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said human rights abuses by warlords are jeopardizing the integrity of the country's first presidential election. According the HRW, Afghans in general are more concerned over the influence of warlords in harming the democratic nature of the elections than over armed attacks by neo-Taliban militants.

Karzai's most important triumph in combating warlordism has been the successful sacking of western Afghanistan's strongman and Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004). Karzai, however, dismissed the idea that he was out to disenfranchise former mujahedin leaders and commanders -- some of whom clearly merit the "warlord" label. Karzai told RFE/RL that mujahedin are sons of Afghanistan and have sacrificed their blood for their country.

There are no differences between the mujahedin and ordinary Afghans as such, Karzai suggested, adding that prosperity would help all Afghans, including the former mujahedin. While Karzai did not specifically address the issue, some former mujahedin leaders, including his current Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, have criticized the removal of Ismail Khan, who was a well-known mujahedin commander.

Karzai also told RFE/RL that he rejects the idea of a coalition government, and he blamed some of the shortcomings of his current administration on its having been based on a coalition. Karzai also stressed the importance of a common platform rather than political-party membership in response to a question concerning his running mates -- Ahmad Zia Mas'ud and Mohammad Karim Khalili -- both of whom are members of disparate political parties. Khalili in fact heads his own political party -- Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, or Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan -- and commands his own militia. Should he win, Karzai told RFA, anyone who serves in his administration must agree to participate in his platform and his plan.