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Karzai Gives High Marks to Loya Jirga

Afghanistan's new interim president gives high marks to the just-completed grand council, the Loya Jirga, that elected him president. But he says people now have high expectations of his new government.

In an exclusive interview with the Voice of America at the presidential palace, Hamid Karzai said people were happy with the Loya Jirga. But, he says he now has to meet the expectations on his new transitional administration. "The meetings I had with them, with people, with regions, they were happy," he said. "But they had some very clear demands. The Loya Jirga gave me a signal. The signal was that we voted for you, we trust you. But, your honeymoon is over. We want results."

Mr. Karzai says people want an end to the rule of local warlords, a proper central government, collection of revenues, and reconstruction of Afghanistan's shattered highway system.

Mr. Karzai headed the interim government for the past six months. Under terms of the Bonn Accords, he will now head an 18-month transitional administration that will draft a new constitution and pave the way for elections.

There was criticism from many Loya Jirga delegates of intimidation by local officials - particularly provincial governors - some of whom were elected and others appointed as delegates by Mr. Karzai's government. Mr. Karzai admits there was intimidation and says he will form a commission to investigate those complaints. "There were incidents, surely, of some intimidation while the members of the Loya Jirga were elected in their provinces and during the Loya Jirga itself," he said. "I'm aware of that. And, I will appoint a commission of inquiry from the Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan to look into that."

Mr. Karzai says he agonized over putting together a cabinet that would satisfy different ethnic and political groups. He says he was under enormous pressure from all sides. "It was a hell of a time, in terms of the difficulties," said Hamid Karzai. "You know, it was a lesson. And, I went through a very, very, very difficult time trying to accommodate the wishes of all and everybody. Suddenly, everybody was the greatest patriot. Suddenly, everybody was the greatest representative. Suddenly, everybody was the greatest in the demand for jobs. I believe that's how life goes on when you're in a democracy."

The top cabinet jobs - defense, foreign affairs - remain in the hands of the Northern Alliance: the Tajik and Uzbek-dominated group that helped defeat the Taleban. Mr. Karzai says some political realities had to be recognized. "They're part of Afghanistan," he said. "It's a reality here in Afghanistan. We're not living in, we should not live in, Utopia. We must work with what we have on the ground. Keeping Afghanistan's reality in mind, I tried to produce the best, effective cabinet for Afghanistan - satisfactory to all."

Mr. Karzai says he would like to see international peacekeepers - currently only in Kabul - be deployed to the northern area, Mazar-i-Sharif, where there has been a rash of attacks on aid organizations. One female international aid worker was recently gang-raped there. Mr. Karzai says he has told General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has near-total command of that area, to halt the attacks and bring the situation under control. "I told General Dostum yesterday, I said 'You go to Mazar-i-Sharif and be my special representative, but your job as the special representative will be to bring social justice there, to end warlordism there, to end this kind of gang mentality there where people go and harass NGOs [non-governmental organizations], harass foreign workers.' It's an insult to Afghanistan if a foreign lady, a guest in this country, is insulted by a few thugs and criminals," he said.

Mr. Karzai also says international aid is still coming in at a trickle and that he will ask the international community to speed up delivery of the $4.5 billion that has been promised.