Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made an urgent appeal to NATO to quickly send troops to his war-scarred country to strengthen security in the run-up to September's elections.
Speaking extemporaneously to leaders from NATO nations and those from the alliance's partner states in the Balkans and Central Asia, Mr. Karzai issued an impassioned appeal for the alliance to speed up its deployment of troops to his country so that Afghans can vote in what he called a secure environment.
"I thank you very much for what you have done yesterday for us, and I would like you to please hurry as NATO in Afghanistan," he said. "Come sooner than September and provide the Afghan men and women with the chance to vote freely, without fear, without coercion."
Remnants of Afghanistan's former Taleban regime have conducted a campaign of murder and intimidation against Afghans who seek to register to vote. But Mr. Karzai says more than 50 percent of the country's presumed total of eligible voters have already registered. And he insists that the elections must be held in September, in spite of United Nations warnings that the security situation is so bad that the poll may have to be postponed.
NATO wanted to increase the number of its peacekeeping troops in time to provide protection for the voter registration process, but the 3,500 extra troops that NATO leaders promised on Monday are not expected to arrive until shortly before the elections. Individual member countries have been slow in meeting pledges to send both troops and equipment, such as helicopters, to the mission.
Mr. Karzai says NATO has to act quickly to ensure that the elections are successful.
"The Afghan people have trust in the security that you are going to provide to us. But the Afghan people need that security today, and not tomorrow," emphasized Mr. Karzai.
NATO officials have described their mission in Afghanistan as the alliance's main priority. Analysts have warned that the organization's credibility is on the line in Afghanistan because it committed itself last year to gradually extend security outside of the capital, Kabul, but has been slow in doing so.
Afghanistan is NATO's first venture outside its traditional Euro-Atlantic theater of operations. And analysts say that, if the alliance fails to achieve its goals there, its readiness to mount any further operations outside of Europe will be called into question.