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Afghanistan: Karzai Highlights Agenda Ahead Of UN Address

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaking at a UNICEF-hosted event in New York on September 18 (AFP) NEW YORK, September 19, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai will spend the next week in North America -- speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on September 20 before traveling to Canada and then returning for talks with senior officials in Washington. On September 18, Karzai highlighted his agenda and the problems facing rebuilding efforts in a speech he gave at a New York-based educational foundation called the Asia Society.

A key theme of Karzai's speech in New York was that religious extremism is fueling terrorism -- not only in Afghanistan, but throughout the region.

"The terrorism in our part of the world emanates from some of us relying solely on extremism -- on religious extremism -- as an instrument of policy," Karzai said. "The more we do that, the more we lead to violence. The more we do that, the more we endanger our own region and beyond. The vision for our part of the world -- South Asia and Central Asia, is one of tremendous hope -- for better prosperity, tremendous manpower, better education, more trade, more openness -- if we can handle this particular problem."

But Karzai warned that Kabul's efforts to fight terrorism are complicated by the failure to build up a strong police force.

"Afghanistan's biggest problem is lack of strong institutions. Especially law enforcement. Especially the police," he said. "The problem that we have today in Afghanistan in fighting terror -- all the attacks of the Taliban in our districts -- is not because they are strong. It's because we don't have the strength in terms of the number of police, in terms of the trained number of police, in terms of the resources and the spread of the police force."

Opium Problem

Karzai also described illegal opium farming -- and the funds that it brings to both drug lords and Taliban fighters -- as a menace to the future of his country. He said the lack of economic opportunity for ordinary Afghans after three decades of war has caused some to turn to opium-poppy cultivation.

"Alongside this -- a much sinister problem -- the problem of narcotics," Karzai said. "That again is because of desperation, lack of hope, and war and which caused all of this. Now Afghan people went to growing poppies, some of them. I know families, ladies and gentlemen, who destroyed their pomegranate orchards, which is the most beautiful of the orchards that we know of in the world, to replace them with poppies. Or vineyards, to replace them with poppies. That menace has become an economic reality in Afghanistan."

Cross-Border Threat

Karzai expressed concern mingled with hope about a recent deal that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made with a pro-Taliban group in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal regions. The pact calls for no cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. But Karzai said terrorists could use the deal to gain time in order to regroup and gain strength.

"President Musharraf, our brother, was in Kabul about a week ago, 10 days ago. And he mentioned the deal signed with the Taliban or the associates there," Karzai said. "The first item in that deal is that they would not cross over into Afghanistan for attacks against Afghanistan. And when President Musharraf mentioned this I was very happy. I said, 'Good! That's quite reassuring.' And we would wait to see if that will be honored. Now, if that deal removes terrorism from affecting the lives of our brothers in Pakistan, and sisters in Pakistan, or if that deal also removes the dangers to us as it comes across the border -- we'll be happy. If it does not, it would give them time to get stronger and then attack both sides with strength. That would then worry us a lot."

Karzai acknowledged that Pakistan's government might not have the means to stop cross-border raids into Afghanistan from the tribal regions that stretch along the porous mountain border.

"There's definitely this problem of cross-border activity, terrorism that affects Afghanistan," he said. "I have raised this with President Musharraf. He told me and he also said in his public address to the Afghan people that there may be such cross-border activity taking place. It may not be a question of intentions on the part of the government of Pakistan, but a question of capabilities to prevent such attacks. Now we are working on this together and we will have discussion together with [U.S.] President Bush. Let's hope that we can together address this problem."

'Preaching Hate'

Karzai also expressed concerns about some of the most radical of Pakistan's madrasahs -- religious boarding schools for the poor -- that have been blamed for encouraging Islamic extremism and fostering terrorism.

"And let's hope that we can also address the problem of madrasahs preaching hatred -- not religion, not religion -- [preaching] hatred, pure hatred. Hatred of mankind and exploiting poor, uneducated, desperate young children, motivating them into killing themselves, motivating them into attacking other people," Karzai said. "That is a serious question that we have to find a solution to."

Karzai is due to address the UN General Assembly on September 20. After that, he plans a two-day visit to Canada before traveling to Washington for talks with Bush and Pakistan's visiting president.

Others due to meet with Karzai in Washington include Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Opium In Afghanistan

Opium In Afghanistan
An antidrug billboard in Kabul shows a skeleton hanging from an opium bulb (AFP)

OPIUM FARMING ON THE RISE Despite a nationwide program by the Afghan government to eradicate opium-poppy fields and offer farmers alternative crops, international experts say that the 2006 opium crop will be as much as 40 percent larger than the previous year's. Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium in the world, and the source of as much as 90 percent of Europe's heroin.(more)


Narcotics Supply Reduced, But Afghanistan Still Suffering

Saffron Could Help Wean Farmers Off Opium Poppies

Poppy-Eradication Drive Launched In Western Province

Insurgency Gains Ground As Poppy-Eradication Efforts Struggle

UN Drug Agency Promotes 'Alternative Development' For Curbing Poppy Cultivation


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