Karzai asks Bush for more help

By KATHY A. GAMBRELL, UPI White House Correspondent  |  Feb. 27, 2003 at 3:22 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked President George W. Bush Thursday to do more to help the people of his country more than one year after the United States ousted the Taliban regime and sought to bring stability to the terrorist-ridden nation.

"I'm also here to ask you to do more for us in making the life of the Afghan people better, more stable, more peaceful," Karzai said after his Oval Office meeting with Bush. "I'm also here to tell you that the war against terrorism is going on. We have defeated them, but some elements are still there."

Karzai was named interim president last year after U.S. forces removed the Taliban regime from power in the country that served as a headquarters for the Islamic extremist group al Qaida. U.S. officials blamed al Qaida and its leader, Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden, for the attacks on New York City and Washington that left some 3,000 people dead.

Karzai was a powerful Pashtun leader from Kandahar who has led Afghanistan's government since December 2001.

The Afghan leader thanked Bush for the reconstruction efforts, saying the United States has helped "tremendously" in the past year to build roads and bolstering its army. Bush hailed the "tremendous progress" the country has made with 2 million refugees returning to their homes after fleeing the bombing and fighting, and 3 million children back in school.

Much of the discussion the two leaders had in the Oval Office focused on reconstruction issues such as water supplies, farming and electricity, said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. Bush received an update on construction of a road that the United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia jointly financed.

The United States is providing assistance to Afghanistan. We will continue to do so. Private sector assistance can grow, and there are other forms of assistance from non-governmental organizations that are available, too, Fleischer said.

Fleischer said there were no discussions about increasing reconstruction aid to Afghanistan.

Analysts who have studied what the United States has done in the year since it began its military campaign say that Bush administration officials have failed miserably in providing Afghanistan with the billions of dollars in assistance to rebuild the tiny nation.

The United States in October 2001 launched a major military offensive aimed at ridding the nation of its terrorist ties and a massive global manhunt for bin Laden and the Taliban leadership. While a few members of the Taliban were captured, bin Laden and members of his inner circle have never been found.

Peter Singer, a foreign policy fellow with the Brookings Institution in Washington, told United Press International, that Karzai likely came to Washington to ask the Bush administration not to forget about Afghanistan as it pursues its objectives in Iraq. The Bush administration's goals in Afghanistan were never met, Singer said, even though it did manage to topple the Taliban regime.

"The [Afghan] government is incredibly weak. Warlords still dominate the countryside," Singer said.

Singer called Karzai a leader who is coming to Washington without much influence. Karzai, who escaped an assassination attempt last year, does not have the ability to protect himself, Singer said. His bodyguards are American personnel contracted to provide security.

Afghanistan has seen a resurgence of the remnants of al Qaida and the Taliban, some of whom launch routine attacks on U.S. forces still stationed in the region. Fleischer told reporters during an afternoon briefing that "pockets of al Qaida" remained, but the new government controlled most of the country.

Political analysts have begun to draw correlations between the aftermath of the offensive in Afghanistan and what may happen in Iraq should Bush choose military action in the coming weeks. Prior to entering Kandahar, the administration promised opposition leaders help with forming a new government, an army and help for refugees who crossed the border into Pakistan and other nations to avoid the fighting.

Singer said the United States not only has a distaste for nation-building, it does not do it very well giving the appearance that the administration is "making it up as they go along."

Fleischer said the president opposes using the military as a tool of nation-building, but that "there are other areas of government that are actively involved, should be involved and will be involved in nation-building, to help nations to have recovery either from war, or in the case of Afghanistan, 25 years of occupation."

Promises of a Marshall Plan-like reconstruction plan for Afghanistan never materialized, Singer said. It is estimated it would take about $20 billion to get Afghanistan on track, but the U.S. financial commitment has fallen far short of that figure, he said. The Bush administration forgot to add funding in its 2004 federal budget proposal to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, only to have go back and put in $300 million.

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