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Karzai: Local Warlords Beware! - 2002-03-20

The head of Afghanistan's interim government says he will take a tough line with local warlords in his country. But he adds that European nations are still balking at extending their peacekeeping role outside Kabul.

In an exclusive interview with VOA at the presidential palace, Interim government Chairman Hamid Karzai says he is prepared to welcome warlords who want peace, but also warns those warlords who do not change their ways. "The carrot and the stick, both will be used against bad people - people who loot our homes, people who disturb the lives of the common Afghans, people who ruin the fields, the agriculture and ruin the privacy of Afghan homes and their lives. Those people, there is no tolerance for them," he said.

Since the fall of the Taleban, many parts of rural Afghanistan have been taken by local men who rule over these areas as private fiefdoms, backed by private armies. The central government has no control over these areas, except by power of persuasion.

Mr. Karzai says delegations have been sent to various areas in the north to settle the situation peacefully. But he says he will use force, if necessary, to bring the warlords under control. "Bad guys are bad guys," says Hamid Karzai. "You have to warn them. You have to deal with them with the strong arm of the law. And if they don't behave themselves, we have all the determination to do what is necessary to do."

But how this would be accomplished is uncertain. The army and national police are not yet trained, much less ready to be deployed to trouble spots. It is not clear if the victorious Northern Alliance, whose military allegiance to Mr. Karzai is - say diplomatic analysts - questionable, would take on such a task.

Mr. Karzai, who just returned from a trip to Germany, says the European nations contributing troops to International Security Assistance Force have agreed to extend their time in Afghanistan; but still balk at expanding their writ outside Kabul. "There's not yet movement on that, though there's an understanding of the Afghan situation better," he says. "But there's definitely a tendency to allow an extension in time, in the duration of the service of ISAF in Afghanistan. That is there."

One hope many Afghans have for peace and stability in Afghanistan is the upcoming return of the former king, Zahir Shah, from exile. Mr. Karzai says he will fly to Rome to pick up the king and they will return to Kabul March 26.

Zahir Shah has no pretensions to reclaim his lost throne. But, as Mr. Karzai points out, the ex-king commands great respect and can help bring unity. "This means again that Afghanistan is free for all the king and the pauper," says Mr. Karzai. "All can come and stay. He is a respected man, a fatherly figure. I'm sure he'll contribute significantly to the peacemaking in Afghanistan."

Some $4.5 billion in aid for Afghanistan was recently pledged by international donors. Mr. Karzai says the aid is still slow in coming, but says the situation is getting better.

Mr. Karzai says the schools are about to reopen, governmental salaries are being paid, internal revenues are starting to trickle in and a governmental budget is now being drawn up.