Karzai rejects criticism over opium trade
Afghan president: Other countries must follow through on aid


William B. Plowman / Reuters

MSNBC News Services
Updated: 7:23 p.m. ET May 22, 2005

NEW YORK - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday sharply rejected reported U.S. claims that he had not worked strongly enough to curtail production of opium, the raw material for heroin.

“We are going to have probably all over the country at least 30 percent poppies reduced,” Karzai said. “So we have done our job. The Afghan people have done our job.

“Now the international community must come and provide alternative livelihood to the Afghan people, which they have not done so far. Let us stop this blame,” he told CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Ahead of his White House meeting Monday with President Bush, Karzai said he wants greater control over American military operations in his country and punishment for any U.S. troops who mistreat prisoners. He cited reports of prisoner abuse by American forces at the main military prison north of Kabul, the capital.

Production of opium has soared since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, leading to warnings that the former al-Qaida haven is fast turning into a “narco-state” despite the presence of more than 20,000 foreign troops.

Last year, cultivation reached a record 323,700 acres and yielded nearly 90 percent of the world’s supply.

Rice raps Karzai on ‘leadership’
A diplomatic cable sent May 13 from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a U.S.-sponsored crackdown on the world’s largest narcotics industry had not been very effective partly because Karzai “has been unwilling to assert strong leadership,” according to a New York Times report Sunday.

Taking issue with that report, Karzai said, “Instead of blaming Afghanistan, the international community must now come and fulfill its own objective to the Afghan people, and they must not spend money on projects that they cannot deliver properly in Afghanistan, and on creation of forces that are not effective.”

He added, “Where the Afghan government worked, it was effective. ... Where international money and creation of forces for destruction of poppies was concerned, it was ineffective and delayed and halfhearted. We have done our job. Now the international community must do its job, period.”

Karzai noted that he told the European Union this month that poppy production would decline by as much as 30 percent this year and that sustained aid is critical in maintaining the downward trend.

The EU has funded farm projects to keep people from growing poppies and instead turn them toward essential food production. Afghanistan’s illegal trade is estimated to account for over half of the country’s gross domestic product.

Washington already has set aside $780 million to train Afghan anti-drug forces and help farmers switch to legal crops this year. Nearly two dozen Afghans have graduated from a U.S.-funded course to join a unit charged with arresting traffickers.

Abuse of prisoners ‘not acceptable’
As for the abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan, Karzai said, “This is simply not acceptable. We are angry about this. We want justice. We want the people responsible for this sort of brutal behavior punished and tried and made public.”

The U.S. military has said it would not tolerate any incidents of abuse.

The newspaper’s account of the prisoner’s mistreatment were backed by New York-based Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group, which said that at least six prisoners in U.S. custody in Afghanistan have been killed since 2002.

Hundred of people were arrested during and after the campaign by U.S.-led forces to oust the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.

Karzai spoke of the successful partnership with the U.S. that helped drive the Taliban from Afghanistan.

Seeks restriction on U.S. military
“Now, we are in a different phase of this struggle. The Afghan people have gone to elections, they have a constitution, they have elected a government. ... The Afghan people now feel that they own that country,” Karzai said.

As a result, he wants some restrictions on how the U.S. military operates in his country.

“Operations that involve going to people’s homes, that involves knocking on people’s doors, must stop, must not be done without the permission of the Afghan government,” Karzai said.

On the status of Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, still a fugitive, Karzai said, “We know that for sure he’s not in Afghanistan, yes. If he were there, we would catch him.”

Karzai — seen by his critics as an American puppet — issued the tough statements on the U.S. military after fresh reports of prisoner abuse by American forces at Bagram, the main military prison north of Kabul, and anti-U.S. riots that broke out across the country earlier this month, leaving at least 15 people dead.

Newsweek report
The unrest was triggered by a Newsweek magazine report, later retracted, that the Quran was defiled by interrogators at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and likely further fueled by long-standing complaints of heavy-handed search operations and the deaths of civilians in U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

There were fears a report in Friday’s New York Times, based on the Army’s criminal investigation into the December 2002 deaths of two Afghans at Bagram, could re-ignite anti-American manifestations.

Karzai said he was “shocked” by allegations of prisoner abuse by poorly trained U.S. soldiers at Bagram and vowed to raise the issue during his four-day U.S. visit. “We want the U.S. government to take very, very strong action to take away people like that (who) are working with their forces in Afghanistan,” Karzai said. “Definitely ... I will see about that when I am in the United States.”

Later Sunday, in a speech to Boston University graduates, Karzai sounded an optimistic note about his country. “After decades of stagnation, our civil society is once again vibrant, our economy is growing fast, and we are becoming a hub of trade in the region,” he said.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.