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Afghanistan: Karzai Speaks Of Accomplishments, Problems In First Months

Hamid Karzai, the head of Afghanistan's interim administration, is now about halfway through his tenure as the country's leader under the Bonn accord. In an interview with RFE/RL's Afghan Service, Karzai yesterday outlined what he sees as some of the accomplishments of the interim administration so far, as well as the challenges ahead. RFE/RL Afghan Service correspondent Sayid-Sami Abass reports from Kabul.

Prague, 10 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The six-month interim administration was created at a UN-brokered conference in Bonn in December as part of a power-sharing deal between four main Afghan factions following the Taliban's collapse under U.S. bombing.

The administration is tasked with governing Afghanistan until a Loya Jirga (national assembly) can name an 18-month transition government in June to lead the country to national elections.

Our correspondent asked Karzai how many of the goals set in Bonn for the interim administration have been achieved. Karzai replied: "The Bonn resolution was based on two principles. One was the formation of the interim administration [and that] was formed peacefully. The other was to create an independent commission to form the Loya Jirga without interference from the interim administration. That commission has been formed and, hopefully, the Loya Jirga will convene in Kabul very soon, possibly even before the set date."

The commission to form the Loyal Jirga announced on 31 March that the national assembly will be convened from 10-16 June in the Afghan capital. The UN-appointed commission, which has spent weeks organizing the assembly, also said the Loya Jirga will comprise 1,450 delegates. Almost 1,000 of these will be elected, while the rest will be selected by key interest groups such as women, business people, religious leaders, refugees, and overseas Afghans. The election of the delegates is to be supervised by the UN and include international monitors.

Karzai also said that he sees a major accomplishment in the reopening of Afghan schools late last month, with girls re-enrolled for the first time since the Taliban era. The Taliban, who ruled almost all of Afghanistan from 1996 until late last year, banned the education of women as a violation of their fundamentalist brand of Islam.

"Other goals [of the Bonn conference] for the interim government concern the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the improvement of the economy in Afghanistan, the restoration of a better life and security in Afghanistan, and also education. Schools have reopened nationwide in Afghanistan and teaching has resumed. Also, the health situation in Afghanistan is better compared to last month," Karzai said.

At the same time, Karzai said the months since the interim administration took office on 22 December have seen Afghanistan re-establish diplomatic ties with foreign capitals. All but three states -- Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates -- broke ties with Kabul during the Taliban era.

"In the foreign arena, we have had many successful trips to foreign countries, re-establishing Afghanistan's foreign relations with the world's governments. Afghanistan has emerged from darkness and backwardness and proved its existence with dignity and pride and this was a very good achievement," Karzai said.

Our correspondent asked Karzai how he rates progress toward another key goal, ridding Afghanistan of the "warlord" culture that has plagued it for 23 years. That culture -- by which powerful regional and factional leaders hold life-and-death sway over the populations in areas they control -- grew during the Soviet-Afghan war of 1979-89 and the factional fighting of the 1990s and continues today.

Karzai said the Afghan people want an end to warlordism and called that an essential condition for restoring peace. "It is the will of the Afghan people to put an end to warlordism. People wanted us to do two things: first, the development of their respective provinces and regions and areas, and second, the liberation from oppression and arbitrary treatment by armed groups and individuals."

Abass also asked Karzai about progress in dealing with another major Afghan problem: the widespread cultivation of opium poppies. UN drug-control experts said recently they anticipate Afghanistan this year will produce some 1,900 to 2,700 metric tons of opium, the raw material for heroin. The cultivation of opium poppies resumed this growing season following a Taliban ban on the flowers in 2000.

Karzai passed a decree on 4 April to destroy the opium-poppy crop and compensate farmers who will suffer financial losses as a result. The decree comes after the interim administration banned cultivation of poppies in January.

The leader of the interim administration told RFE/RL that Afghanistan must end opium-poppy cultivation as a matter of national interest. The country has traditionally been one of the world's major opiate producers and the source of up to 90 percent of the illegal heroin in European markets.

"From any perspective you look: from the perspective of religion, from the perspective of the country's national interest, from the perspective of the country's agriculture, Afghanistan must end poppy production, no matter what, and we have launched a program in this field, and we have received aid from international organizations to pay the farmers $250 per quarter-hectare [not to plant poppies]," Karzai said.

But so far, efforts to eliminate the poppy crop have encountered strong resistance from farmers who say the amount of compensation being offered -- $250 -- is insufficient to cover their costs or their indebtedness to opium dealers. Over the weekend, security forces fired into a crowd of farmers protesting at the compensation plans in the southeastern province of Helmand. Witnesses said eight people were killed.

(Translations by Azam Gorgin and Abbas Djavadi)