WASHINGTON – Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that for Afghanistan to reach its goals it will “for years need international assistance” in security and finance.
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Monday evening as part of an eight-day visit to the United States,the president said that the country now has the capacity to handle huge sums of money.
Afghanistan received donations of $4.5 billion since the end of the war in 2001. However,most of it was channeled to United Nations organizations and charities with little going to Afghan budget. Karzai said the government has publicly accounted for its spending and that international and non-governmental organizations have been asked to do so as well.
He said that the Afghan people desire good roads,a system of laws and a growing economy. “The past two years have proved that what they want they can get,” he said as he referred to the transfer of power to the new government.
“He is very optimistic,” said Arthur B. Keys Jr.,who attended the speech with more than 500 others in the invited audience. Most represented financial institutions,government agencies,scholars and the Afghan community.
He said he agrees with Karzai's appeal for more money to be spent in Afghanistan. Keys is the president and CEO of International Development and Relief Inc.,an organization based in Arlington,Va.,that runs a monetary assistance project in Kabul,Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's economy grew at a rapid 30 percent in 2002 and 25 percent last year. Karzai said that financial institutions project 15 percent growth in the next four years if stability continues.
He also disclosed plans to build railroads from Afghanistan to Pakistan,Iran and Uzbekistan that he said will boost trade with neighboring states and enhance the economy.
Despite continued security concerns,Karzai said that Afghanistan is in the process of rebuilding its national army and police. The army has grown from 2,000 soldiers in 2003 to 10,000 this year. It is projected to increase to 20,000 soldiers next year.
With the help of the international community,Afghanistan has also designed the Demilitarization,Demobilization and Reintegration program to disarm the private militias. The program so far has not been very successful,Karzai said,because a number of militia commanders have openly refused to cooperate with the DDR process.
Since the overthrow of the Taliban,Afghanistan has adopted a constitution that for the first time guarantees freedom of speech,freedom of religion and association and equal rights and protection to Afghans. “It is the constitution that recognizes rights and small minority language,” said Karzai. He also highlighted that 25 percent of parliamentary seats are reserved for women.
With the presidential election due in September,3.5 million voters have registered so far and 1.5 million were women. The registration process continues.
Asked about the warlords and their role after elections,Karzai said that he would talk with all political actors. He said he will use democracy and negotiate with them. “If they agree with our reform plan,they will work with us,” he said.
Noting that many orchards have been converted to opium fields,Karzai said that programs to pay growers to destroy their fields didn't work because more people started growing poppies to get the government money. “We know they are a menace,” he said,adding that fighting them will take time.