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Afghan Leader Arrives In U.S.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (in file photo) 22 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has arrived in Boston to kick off a four-day visit to the United States that is expected to include a meeting with President George W. Bush and discussion of a long-term strategic partnership between Washington and Kabul.

Karzai has come under increased pressure at home over the nature of that bilateral relationship and the continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

The Afghan leader is expected to meet with Bush and other senior U.S. officials beginning tomorrow.

Karzai said before departing for the United States that he would raise the issue of the treatment of Afghan prisoners at U.S. military facilities.

Bush Sees Progress

Bush used his nationally broadcast radio speech yesterday to tout progress in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Tailban regime nearly four years ago. Karzai has been a key player during that period, emerging as interim leader after the Bonn agreement in late 2003, then serving as Transitional Administration chairman, and finally winning a historic term as Afghanistan's first-ever directly elected president.

"On Monday, I will meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House to discuss freedom's remarkable progress in his nation," Bush said in his radio speech. "Afghanistan now has a constitution, an elected President, and its citizens will return to the polls this September to elect provincial councils in the lower house of the National Assembly."

Bush also pledged continued U.S. support for Afghanistan in the post-Taliban era.

"We're helping Afghanistan's elected government solidify these democratic gains and deliver real change," Bush said. "A nation that once knew only the terror of the Taliban is now seeing a rebirth of freedom. And we will help them succeed."

Relations With Washington

The agenda of Karzai's meeting with Bush includes discussions on a long-term strategic partnership between the United States and Afghanistan. A key detail of that partnership is how long U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan.

Karzai said in April that any agreement allowing long-term U.S. military bases in his country would be linked to continued U.S. economic support.

But in recent days, Karzai also has witnessed an increasingly vocal opposition to the presence of U.S. forces.

A recent report in "Newsweek" magazine alleging that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, defiled the Koran was followed by sometimes violent protests in Afghanistan. "Newsweek" editors later retracted the story, but many Afghans still think the report was true. They also accuse U.S. forces of being heavy-handed in their hunt for militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Then on 20 May, "The New York Times" reported that a confidential U.S. Army file contains troubling details about the cases of two Afghans who died while in U.S. custody at a detention center within the Bagram Air Field near Kabul.

On The Agenda

Yesterday, just before he left for the United States, Karzai told reporters that the treatment of Afghan prisoners by U.S. forces also will be raised as an issue in his talks with Bush about a strategic partnership.

"This is one of the frameworks of the points of the strategic partnership that we are seeking from the United States -- the return of prisoners to Afghanistan, all of them, and an end [to the practice of] going to people's homes [to search for terrorist suspects]," Karzai said. "That should be done by the Afghan government. An Afghan suspect should be taken by the Afghan government."

Karzai also has asked for greater control over U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and for the vigorous punishment of U.S. soldiers who mistreat Afghan prisoners.

U.S. officials say there are only isolated instances in which Afghan prisoners are abused by U.S. troops or the private contractors who interrogate them.

But human rights groups and some former U.S. intelligence officers say recurring abuses in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo suggests that abuses might be the result of policies set at a high level in Washington.

(compiled from wire reports)