President Bush has met with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, at the White House, where they signed a new strategic partnership on security, political and economic issues. President Bush vowed to help Afghanistan continue fighting terrorism and the illegal opium trade.
President Bush and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, signed a deal to help rebuild Afghan government institutions, and create a free-market economy. But the new partnership does not change the role of some 20-thousand U.S. troops in the country, despite calls by Mr. Karzai for greater control over American military operations.
“Of course our troops will respond to U.S. commanders, but our U.S. commanders and our diplomatic mission there is in a consultive relationship with the government. It's a free society. There's a democratically elected government. They've invited us in. And we'll consult with them in terms of how to achieve mutual goals,” says president Bush.
One critical goal is ending instability and violence. Earlier this month, 16 people died in anti-American protests partly blamed on a U.S. news report claiming that U.S. military interrogators had desecrated the Koran at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The report has since been retracted. Mr. Karzai says the clashes were really motivated by politics.
“They were more against the elections in Afghanistan, they were more against the progress in Afghanistan, they were more against the strategic partnership with the United States,” says Mr. Karzai.
A crucial element of that U.S. partnership is combating the illegal opium trade. And Mr. Karzai says poppy eradication efforts have been successful in some areas, cutting the supply nationwide by 20 to 30 percent this year.
“Now if this trend continues we'll have no poppies hopefully in Afghanistan in another five or six years. But equally important is the provision of alternative livelihoods to the Afghan people,” says
Some alternatives are food crops, like pomegranate and melons, which Mr. Karzai says had been widely grown in Afghanistan until the rise of the lucrative opium trade. And President Bush agrees that new economic opportunities are crucial to ending the drug trade.
“The truth of the matter is, though, that it's very important for your government to make, continue to make, and I'm confident the president will, but continue to make the right decisions about rule of law and transparency and decisions that will encourage an open marketplace, so that people will feel comfortable investing in your country,” says President Bush.
Mr. Bush says one example of possible new investment is using Afghanistan's natural gas resources to fire electrical power plants in the country.