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Afghan President Karzai Defends Talks With Warlords - 2004-06-15

Afghanistan's interim president has defended political negotiations with some of his country's regional warlords. The Afghan leader says they have to be included in the political process.

Interim President Hamid Karzai said Monday his controversial talks with the warlords are simply a recognition of Afghanistan's political reality. Speaking in Washington at the Center for Stragegic and International Studies, Mr. Karzai said he was dealing with political players who had a role in the peace process begun with the Bonn Agreement.

"Some of these people referred to as warlords are really not warlords. They are political actors. They were part of the Bonn process. They had the highest office in Afghanistan. They have a public political structure in Afghanistan," says Mr. Karzai. "They are part of the Afghan reality."

Mr. Karzai's reference was apparently to Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president of Afghanistan and onetime leader of one of the anti-Soviet resistance groups known as "mujahedin."

Mr. Karzai met recently with Mr. Rabbani and other former mujahedin leaders who make up the armed "Northern Alliance." According to published reports, Mr. Karzai was negotiating for their support for his presidential bid in the upcoming elections.

But the talks dismayed those Afghans who blame the mujahedin for the civil war that erupted after the communist government collapsed in 1992 and the subsequent seizure of power by the Taleban. Mr. Karzai said he was not about to reject any assurances of support, but denied he compromised principles to cut any political deals.

"In a democratic system, if somebody comes and gives an assurance to a presidential candidate that 'well, I'm not going to be putting a candidate against you, or that we are not going to be putting a candidate against you,' will the candidate tell them, 'no, we don't accept that, go and field a candidate'? Of course it's not in my interest to have them field a candidate against me," says Mr. Karzai. "I will say, 'yes, welcome, let's talk about this.' But if that means compromising principles on which we have embarked toward the future of Afghanistan, no."

He also vehemently denied that any kind of coalition government will emerge after the elections.

Afghanistan is to hold presidential and parliamentary polls in September. Mr. Karzai said the elections will be held on time, despite concerns about security and the slow pace of voter registration. He said that as of Saturday, three and one-half million Afghans had registered to vote.

Officials of the United Nations, which is overseeing the registration and voting, estimate that there are around 9.5 million people eligible to vote in Afghanistan under new electoral laws.