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Confident Karzai Looks Forward To Five More Years As Afghan Leader

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (right) speaks with Akbar Ayazi, director of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul.
KABUL -- In an interview with RFE/RL, Afghan President Hamid Karzai defended his record over the past eight years, including his alliances with regional warlords, and said he is confident of reelection to another five-year term on August 20.

Despite being criticized as isolated from his constituents, Karzai nevertheless exuded confidence and appeared to possess a keen grasp of the issues facing his country during the August 15 interview.

He was quick to note a recent poll in which 62 percent of Afghans said they believe the country is moving in the right direction. Forty-four percent of respondents said they intend to vote for Karzai.

The incumbent faces competition from a few dozen challengers, most notably former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, former Planning Minister Ramzan Bashardost, and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. The election will go to a second round in October unless one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

"Today, our savings in currency and gold is $3.7 billion, up from $180 million [seven years ago]," Karzai said. "Afghanistan's trade, Afghanistan's production, and Afghanistan's internal revenues have all increased three or four times. Not even one kilometer of road was paved in the whole country. Today, we have 5,500 kilometers of paved roads.

"Yet again, Afghanistan is the proud owner of its identity and its flag is flying across the world. And this battered land has once again turned into a home for all Afghans," he said.

'Great Success'

When questioned about his alliances with warlords, Karzai said he has only acted in the national interest, and that for Afghanistan's sake he will make such compromises "a thousand times over."

"This is a great success. I will continue this process of participation so that all Afghans have a stake in the Afghan government, so that every Afghan feels that, 'I belong to this land and I am its owner and there is a place for me in its government and its society'," Karzai said.

"This is not about power sharing among political parties. This is to promote participation and national reconciliation, so that people from all ethnicities and tribes can come here and work [together] and move their lives forward," he said.

This war is not in our homes, in our villages, or [winnable by] arresting our people. This war should be pursued inside terrorist sanctuaries and training centers, and they are all outside Afghanistan...
Turning to foreign relations, Karzai mentioned the difficulties he has had in trying to convince Iran's leadership not to look at the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan as a threat, while at the same time trying to convince Washington that Kabul needs a stable, friendly relationship with Tehran.

Addressing his frequent criticisms of the way in which foreign forces are conducting war on his country's soil, Karzai says most of his disagreements with allies pertain to civilian casualties.

Karzai suggested that following years of disagreements and mostly behind-the-scenes struggles, relations with the West are now on the mend.

"As a result of the agreements reached last fall on civilian casualties and on house searches, the situation has improved. But we would like it to improve further," Karzai said. "We are unwilling to accept civilian casualties.

"I repeat that the war on terrorism is not inside Afghanistan, as was the case in the past. This war is not in our homes, in our villages, or [winnable by] arresting our people. This war should be pursued inside terrorist sanctuaries and training centers, and they are all outside Afghanistan, as is being proven now."

Karzai rejected the possibility of a postelection crisis as has been seen in Iran. He urged all Afghans, including members of the Taliban, to cast ballots and to work toward a peaceful, stable Afghanistan.

"Our children who are 5 years old now will be 25 years old in 20 years, and they will have a more peaceful Afghanistan than today. It will be more developed, prosperous, and progressive as compared to today," Karzai said. "It will be an Afghanistan where nobody will have to travel abroad to seek treatment; an Afghanistan in which people won't need to travel abroad to earn a livelihood, and which will be self-sufficient."

Written by RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique