Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Karzai Sets Out His Stall

In his first speech as the new president of Afghanistan, Hamed Karzai is tough with international donors but vague on the country' still powerful warlords.
By the.iwpr

Afghanistan's president-elect Hamed Karzai, basking in his resounding

victory on Thursday night, has said he would demand that international

donors stuck to their pledges now and get Afghanistan back on its feet.

Speaking at a news conference at the presidential palace in the centre of

the city, Karzai spoke of the Loya Jirga process which has elected him head of state for the next 18 months; the possibility of trials for the many atrocities Afghanistan has witnessed over the past two decades; the structure of his government; and his hopes for the future economy of the country.

But having given five speeches in as many days to his domestic constituency

at the grand assembly, it was towards the international community of donors that

his comments were strongest.

"I will go in a very strong (with) donors who have pledged

their money. Especially I want to rebuild this country's highways. I will

not accept any excuses on that," he said. "The level of aid received is

minimal in comparison to the level of aid promised."

Observers say international donors have delivered perhaps a quarter of the

4 billion US dollars or so in assistance promised at a conference in Tokyo. The UN body the International Organisation of Migration recently scaled back a project to help

repatriate Afghans refugees in Pakistan, saying donors had not provided

enough funds.

Karzai said projects to rebuild the large country's decrepit road network

would both help fuse the country together again after 23 years of war, and

provide much needed jobs for poor Afghans.

Karzai won the vote for the head of state with 1295 votes. His closest rival, Masouda Jalal, got 171. The field was essentially clear after ex-king Zahir Shah and former president Burhannudin Rabbani both announced they would not stand, leaving no nationally known figures to challenge him.

Wearing his now customary Pashtun headdress, the man who this time last

year was living an ordinary life in exile in Pakistan, breezily parried questions from

foreign journalists, laden with undertones of pessimism.

To one question on how he would rebuild a shattered sense of Afghan

nationhood, he replied, " The common Afghan man sees himself as an Afghan. Do you think Afghanistan would still be around if it was not the case? "

On the question of resolving tensions between the different ethnic groups, he said,

"I don't think we have a problem with reconciliation. The problems were

caused by foreigners and terrorists."

Karzai, who has previously toyed with the idea of war crimes trials, was still clearly undecided on the issue." Can we have justice and peace at the same time, or do we have to build peace, slowly and surely, and then turn to the justice which the Afghan

needs? If we can it would be great. Can we do it? Let's see," he said.

The president-elect said he was happy with the Loya Jirga process, adding that although

there had been some problems, the interim administration had been determined

not to intervene at any stage in the process.

"I'm glad the vote (for head of state) was taken in secret although it would

have been easier for all of us if there were a show of hands," he said. "I

was always confident of the maturity of the Afghan people."

He refused to say who he was considering proposing for key posts in the

transitional government. Allocation of cabinet seats, particularly the three

"power ministries" of defence, interior and foreign affairs, is the most

pressing political question in the remainder of the Loya Jirga.

But Karzai, whom detractors have criticised as lacking real power in the

interim administration, seemed determined to make his mark on the

transitional authority, which under the Bonn process will govern Afghanistan

until elections in 18 months time.

"There is no prime minister. If you're telling me I have a prime minister it

is news to me," he responded to one question about the makeup of the

government. "There is one head of state and one head of the executive."

An aide afterwards made clear Karzai meant that he would personally fulfill

both functions.

But the new head of state, who has governed for the past six months as

chairman of an interim administration which has included controversial

leaders of warring factions from the country's past, was vague in response

to several questions about how he meant to deal with the still powerful warlords.

"The objective, Kate, is to take Afghanistan to a better life out of the

quagmire of warlordism, and terror. The people very much want dignity," he

said, answering a question from BBC correspondent Kate Clark.

Sounding confident and relaxed, Karzai cracked several jokes with reporters

before announcing the end of the press conference, "I think that's enough. I

have to pray and have lunch!"

This report was compiled by IWPR trainees Mir EnyatullahSaada, Hafizullah Gardesh, Samander Khan, Daneesh Kerokhil and Abdel Wali.