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Karzai Asks US Congress for Long-Term Commitment to Rebuilding Afghanistan - 2004-06-15

In a speech to Congress, Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, has called for a long-term partnership with the United States to stabilize his country, restore democracy, and win the war on terrorism.

President Karzai told lawmakers the Afghan people are grateful to the United States for supporting them and referred to the dark era of Taleban oppression.

"Our shared success in Afghanistan is vital to achieving victory over the greatest menace the world faces today, terrorism and extremism," he said. "Long before the horrific tragedy of September 11, 2001, terrorists subjected the people of Afghanistan to unspeakable brutality and oppression, even though we were among the most pious Muslims in the world. We were the first and foremost victims of al-Qaida. In the name of Islam, a religion of peace and tolerance, they terrorized and killed the Muslim people of Afghanistan and deprived us of our basic rights. These atrocities continued for many years, and the world remained unengaged."

Mr. Karzai listed accomplishments achieved with U.S. support: from what he called an enlightened constitution establishing a democratic Islamic government, to rebuilding the country's education system and health services, road system, and what he called unprecedented freedom of the press.

Members of Congress have been concerned about progress in building the Afghan National Army and police force, which U.S. officials have said may take several years to complete.

Acknowledging many obstacles ahead, Mr. Karzai referred to the threat to his government's stability from private militias.

"They [the militias] continue to oppress people and challenge law, order and government authority. The Afghan people demand and insist on disarming and demobilizing private militias," he said. "Only with your support, and that of the international community, can we achieve this necessary goal."

Mr. Karzai predicted that at least six to seven million people, half of which he hopes will be women, will be registered for the elections scheduled for September.

Many lawmakers have urged more action by his government and by the U.S. military, to stamp out opium cultivation and drug trafficking.

President Karzai addressed this directly in his speech, saying profits from narcotics trafficking threaten his government's stability and finance terrorism and extremism.

"We have initiated the fight against narcotics, to save our children, to save your children, and children across the world from the evil of addiction to drugs," he said.

President Karzai paid direct tribute to U.S. soldiers who been killed or injured in Afghanistan.

He said the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 had created an unshakable bond between the two countries. "The tragedy of September 11 [2001] once again tied the destinies of our two nations," he said. "You came to Afghanistan to defeat terrorism, and we Afghans welcomed and embraced you for the liberation of our country. Together, we ended the rule of terrorism."

Mr. Karzai is the third foreign leader in just over one year to be given the honor of addressing a joint meeting of Congress, the others being British Prime Minister Tony Blair and then Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.