WASHINGTON — President Bush outlined five new initiatives Tuesday to help Afghanistan continue to move toward peace and prosperity so that it never again is a "terrorist factory." "My government reaffirms its ironclad commitment to help Afghanistan succeed and prosper," said Bush, standing in the Rose Garden next to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
President Bush said Tuesday that five new U.S. programs will help convert Afghanistan from a "terrorist factory" to a democratic and stable nation.
"My government reaffirms its ironclad commitment to help Afghanistan succeed and prosper," Bush said at a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The initiatives include $5 million for start-up grants to small businesses run by women, $4 million to establish a teacher-training institute for women, promotion of a free-trade agreement, help in printing textbooks and building schools, specialized training for elected politicians and expanded cultural exchange programs for young scholars.
Bush said the United States, which in recent months increased its forces in Afghanistan to about 20,000, is helping to build the Afghan national army and train new Afghan police and border patrols.
Karzai, in a speech before Congress earlier in the day and later at the news conference, expressed appreciation for U.S. help. He cited economic and education statistics that showed progress since a U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban from the country in 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks. "This could not have been possible without your help," he said.
Missing from the initiatives was any new program designed to eliminate mounting drug production and trafficking, one of Afghanistan's most serious problems. Millions of dollars in drug profits are said to be channeled to terrorists.
"It's a gaping hole," said Bob Weiner, former spokesman for the Office of Drug Control Policy in the Clinton White House.
Weiner said U.S. efforts to discourage opium poppy farming by providing economic alternatives are not working. He urged a massive military/police interdiction effort similar to that being conducted with U.S. help in Colombia.
Karzai acknowledged the drug problem, saying, "The Afghan people are adamant to fight this menace and to end it." He offered no details.
Karzai brushed aside reports that he was seeking the support of powerful regional warlords in his country for the upcoming September elections. He said he has made "no deals" with them and will not do so.
"I will talk to anybody that comes to talk to me about stability and peace, and about movement toward democracy," he said. "We don't call them warlords. Some of those people are respected leaders of the Afghan resistance. Some of them are former presidents. And we respect them in Afghanistan."
Also at the news conference, Bush — pointing out his own record — said he would avoid the fate of his father, who lost the 1992 election largely because he failed to convince most Americans that he could manage the economy.
"When I first came to office, the economy was headed into a recession. And we acted," he said. "We encouraged the entrepreneurial spirit to flourish by letting people keep more of their own money (through tax cuts) ... and the economy is getting better."
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"Three years ago, the Taliban had granted Osama bin Laden and his terrorist al-Qaida organization a safe refuge," Bush said, standing alongside Karzai in a Rose Garden so humid that the Afghan leader shed his cloak.
"Afghanistan is no longer a terrorist factory sending thousands of killers into the world," Bush said.
The United States, which in recent months has increased its force in Afghanistan to about 20,000 troops, is helping to build the new Afghan national army and train new Afghan police and border patrol. The president, who is using the battle against terrorism as a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, listed five new ways America would help Karzai.
But he added: "The road ahead for Afghanistan is still long and difficult."
Nearly 500 people have died in violence across Afghanistan so far this year. Many are victims of the Taliban-led insurgency; others have died in factional and tribal fighting linked to the country's booming drug trade.
The country's illicit cultivation of opium poppies supplied almost three-fourths of the world's opium last year and helps finance terrorists.
"The Afghan government is adamant, the Afghan people are adamant to fight this menace, to end it in Afghanistan and receive your help in that," Karzai said.
Bush announced that the United States would:
-- Launch a training program for newly elected Afghan politicians.
-- Help print millions of new textbooks, build schools for girls as well as boys and develop a new $4 million women's teacher training institute in Kabul.
-- Set up new cultural exchange programs.
-- Pursue a bilateral trade and investment agreement.
-- Dedicate $5 million to fund training programs and grants for small business, including those run by women.
Robert Weiner, spokesman for the Office of National Drug Policy from 1995 to 2001, noted that curbing the cultivation of poppies was not on the list of initiatives Bush announced.
"They offered nothing against drugs despite its obvious importance against terror," Weiner said. "We need a real plan -- eradication and enforcement with the help of our thousands of troops there, with planes spraying and troops burning and chopping -- to get the job done."
Afghanistan's first election since the United States drove out the Taliban rulers in 2002 is on track for September. Security and logistical problems postponed it from June. Karzai, who is president by vote of a grand council, under traditional Afghan practice, is running against a number of challengers.
Karzai denied that he's made any political pacts with former Islamic militant leaders.
"No deals have been made," Karzai said, adding that, as president, he needs to talk with Afghans from all backgrounds to assure peaceful, democratic elections.
Asked who would try fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar and bin Laden, whose al-Qaida network is blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, Karzai said Afghanistan would consult other nations on how to bring them to justice.
"Osama and Mullah Omar have committed crimes against the Afghan people, against the people in the United States and against the international community," Karzai said.
"They are wanted by the world conscience," he said. "They have to be arrested and tried. And when they are arrested, we will consult the international community and find appropriate mechanism for their trial."
Before his meeting with Bush, Karzai made a 20-minute speech to members of the House and Senate. Like Bush, Karzai underscored the end of a long period of oppression and terror, but added that there is "a long road ahead."
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush on Tuesday held up progress in Afghanistan as a model for Iraq as he tried to paint the U.S. involvement in the Asian state as a success in his run-up to the November U.S. election.
With Afghan President Hamid Karzai at his side at a White House news conference, Bush cited progress in child health care, women's rights and education as signs Afghanistan had risen "from the ashes of two decades of war and oppression."
A new society was growing up in that country since the 2001 U.S. invasion that ousted the Taliban government and the al Qaeda movement it harbored, he said. "And the same thing's going to happen in Iraq. These aren't easy tasks," he said.
Bush's popularity ratings have fallen steeply because of concerns over instability and killing in Iraq as the United States prepares to hand over control to an Iraqi interim government on June 30.
Karzai is favored to win a September presidential election in Afghanistan but concerns have mounted about worsening provincial violence and threats from the Taliban and allied Islamic militants.
Democrats say Bush's invasion of Iraq last year diverted military and financial resources from Afghanistan and from the global war against terrorism he declared after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on America.
An international peacekeeping force provides security for Karzai's fragile government in Kabul, but government control outside the capital is limited with parts of the country in the grip of regional warlords and militant fighters.
During Karzai's visit to Washington, a rocket hit a military base near the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, wounding an Afghan soldier. A government official was shot dead in a separate incident in Kandahar.
A former Clinton administration official slammed Bush for not proposing new steps to crack down on opium cultivation in Afghanistan, which has grown sharply since the Taliban was ousted. "Heroin is an enormous threat to the national security of this country," said Robert Weiner, who worked in Clinton's office of national drug policy.
But Karzai joined Bush in portraying Afghanistan as a success story, touting economic growth of more than 25 percent last year and projections this year of growth of 20 percent.
"This could not have been possible without your help, without America's assistance," Karzai told Bush.
Karzai also defended his talks with regional leaders referred to as warlords.
"First of all, we don't call them warlords. Some of those people are respected leaders of the Afghan resistance," he said. "It's my job to keep stability and peace in Afghanistan. And I will talk to anybody that comes to talk to me about stability and peace and about movement toward democracy."
Karzai made a plea for more U.S. aid, telling lawmakers earlier that democracy would require "sustaining and accelerating the reconstruction of Afghanistan through long-term commitment.
The United States so far has committed about $2.2 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, an amount some lawmakers have criticized as too low as a result of the emphasis on Iraq, where $18.6 billion has been committed for reconstruction. (Additional reporting by Vicki Allen)
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai will meet here with US President George W. Bush and will address the US Congress, in his quest to boost international investment in his war-torn country.
At the White House, Bush and Karzai are expected to discuss reconstruction, security, narcotics and elections in Kabul in September and other key issues, US officials said.
In the US Congress, Karzai is expected to promote greater investment in Afghanistan infrastructure.
Karzai, who arrived here last week for the Group of Eight summit in Georgia, has already asked US businesses to help build a commercial transport network for his country.
On Monday, he told a meeting of business leaders organised by the US Chamber of Commerce the US Agency for International Development and the US Department of Commerce that despite persistent security concerns, Afghanistan's economy would grow at a double-digit pace over the next decade.
Karzai said enhancing transportation infrastructure, including setting up railways, was key to developing Afghanistan's landlocked economy from the ashes of the US-led war that drove the radical Muslim Taliban regime from power over two years ago.
"Whoever invests in Afghanistan in transportation will be one of the biggest earners of money in that part of the world," Karzai told the US business community.
Karzai said current efforts to rebuild highways linking key parts of the country were not sufficient to cope with increasing trade with neighbouring states and prospective economic growth.
He disclosed plans to build railroads from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Iran and Uzbekistan but he did not elaborate.
Afghanistan, he said, welcomed investments in sectors such as energy, telecommunications, textiles, irrigation, mining and information technology, stressing that the climate for business was improving in his country.
To underscore his drive to attract investments, Karzai told his audience he was able during his visit to Washington to use an Afghan cellular telephone line to make a local call in the US capital.
"That is the spirit of business in Afghanistan. That is the spirit of opportunity in Afghanistan," he said.
Karzai forecast the Afghan economy would surge ahead.
Growing from a very low base, Afghanistan posted a rapid 30 percent economic expansion rate in 2002 and 25 percent last year.
Karzai said the Asian Development Bank and other financial institutions had projected annual average economic growth of at least 15 percent from this year to 2008.
"Afghanistan will continue to have, from 2008 onwards for another five years, at least 10 percent of growth. Afghanistan intends to continue that," he said.
The Afghan leader also said he was determined to improve the standard of living of his more than 26 million people, the majority of whom survive on less than one dollar a day.
"Afghanistan wants to have by seven years from today, the income per capita of the Afghan people raised to 700 dollars" from about 167 dollars, he said.
Speaking at another forum, Karzai said his country would have to continue relying on international help to ensure security and weed out narcotics cultivation -- two key concerns dogging development.
About 20 foreign aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year, by suspected Taliban Islamic militants and al-Qaeda diehards.
Karzai said the threat from "these remnants of terrorists" would "remain for a long time," stressing that global support to beef up security was essential to Afghanistan's progress.
He said international help was also key to helping impoverished Afghan farmers wean away from narcotics cultivation.
The illicit drug industry in Afghanistan has become a funding base for the al-Qaeda terror network, ex-White House drug policy spokesman Robert Weiner said, suggesting Bush and Karzai agree on a more effective plan to tackle the scourge.
Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of opium, used to make heroin.
TRANSCRIPT – INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT WEINER
Harry Forestell, CBC Anchor
Robert Weiner, Former White House Drug Office Spokesman
Forestell: "Well one topic that is sure to be raised during President Karzai's Washington visit, is the flourishing drug trade in Afghanistan. Canadian General Rick Hillier, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, warned this week that the opium trade is undermining efforts to rebuild the country. Hillier says the September elections could be delayed by Afghan warlords anxious to protect their drug networks.
Robert Weiner agrees; he is a former spokesman for the White House's drug policy. He joins me now from Washington.
Robert Weiner, just how serious is the resurgence in the drug trade in Afghanistan right now?"
Weiner: "Hi Harry, it is deadly serious. Under our watch since 2001, we have seen a huge resurgence to Afghanistan becoming the number one supplier in the world. This is from the White House's own 2004 National Drug Control Strategy (Visual: holds up Strategy and bar graph) and it shows how in 2001 there were 10 metric tons of heroin, now there are 360, and this year it's going to be off the charts. It's going to be 500 metric tons of heroin. How this happened is inexcusable because as you've pointed out in your opening, drugs are related to terror and if we get the funding for terror through drugs, we are stopping terror."
FORESTELL: "But in fact this isn't just about groups like al Qaeda using drugs to fund their networks, General Rick Hillier, the Canadian General in charge of NATO forces, is blaming Western tolerance of warlords in Afghanistan and their drug networks."
WEINER: "He's exactly right. We and Karzai and President Bush and our troops have been playing footsie with the Afghan warlords who get their, who grow the opium, they have the associations with the farmers, and it's a tragedy. What has happened is because we think we want democracy there, because we want economic stability there, we have forgotten that this is a state that now could be a narco-state according to the General Accounting Office. What we've created is the number one place for heroin in the world, which is as much a threat to our national security as anything else that's going on there, and it funds the very terrorists we're trying to stop. So if that's the reason that we are not fighting drugs in Afghanistan, we have failed in our purpose."
FORESTELL: "Is this battle, do you think, part and parcel an important portion of the war on terror?"
WEINER: "It is one and the same. Because dirty drug money is terror money. And what has happened is we have a plan for economic alternatives in Afghanistan. Well that isn't enough, and it wasn't enough when General McCaffrey created plan Colombia which has destroyed 50% of the coca in Colombia. If we're going to really do the job in Afghanistan and make the world and our country safer from heroin, we need troops involved -- we have thousands of troops there -- we need training, we need real eradication, we need enforcement, and Karzai is not speaking to that. He says ‘It's a problem, I need money, I need troops;' he doesn't say to fight the drugs because he's too close to the warlords who are getting their money from drugs."
FORESTELL: "Well, in reality isn't it the case that Hamid Karzai controls Kabul but not much of the rest of the country, nor do the NATO troops that are there so, without relying on the warlords who do hold the levers of power in other parts of Afghanistan, how do you tackle the drug problem?"
WEINER: "For that very reason. I've seen his interviews on Face the Nation, Meet the Press, Wolf Blitzer and all this weekend. He says that he wants a free Afghanistan, he wants to have nationwide elections, he wants 4 million registered voters. If he is going to really control the country and have a true democracy, he cannot have a narco-state. And so what he should be inviting in is United States troops and British troops to do significant eradication, not this little goal that Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles says of 15 to 20% when you're going to have a 30% increase, and you're already number one in the world -- That's pussyfooting around. If we want to stop heroin, we have to really go at it, like General McCaffrey did in Colombia."
FORESTELL: "Do you think that the United States and Britain can really exert that kind of influence over Afghanistan when they're tied up in Iraq?"
WEINER: "Well isn't that the problem, that we've diverted our interest into a place where there was no terror, we created a PR state where the terrorists went when Afghanistan which actually is the source of the terror, bin Laden's running around in Afghanistan, between the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that's where the terrorists are coming from? And isn't it a tragedy that we are not focusing on Afghanistan and instead we have focused on creating a problem where there wasn't one in Iraq as the intelligence now shows?"
FORESTELL: "Well today during the talks between Bush and Hamid Karzai that focus will be on Afghanistan, again at least for one day. Robert Weiner, I'd like to thank you for your time. Good talking to you."
"It's a pleasure."
FAIZABAD, June 14 (Online): On the streets into Faizabad, the provincial capital of Badakshan province, there is a large hand-painted sign: "Production, sale and use of opium is strongly forbidden by Islam."
Travelling through Afghanistan at this time of year, you would be hard pressed to believe it. Last week as I crossed Takher province, field after field of the delicate pink flowers were in full bloom, their deadly sap being lanced from the long-stemmed green bulbs by an army of farmers.
Mahmoud Yusef is typical of many. A genial elderly man with long, grey sideburns and beard, and wearing a woollen bobble hat, he more resembles the cartoon image of Santa's little helper than the cultivator and salesman of the opium resin that contributes to Afghanistan's renewed claim to fame as the world's number-one heroin producer.
"This is only my first year, I've never grown poppy before," he assures me as his fingers nimbly draw the wooden lancing tool quickly across the bulb. For now, just a trickle of brown, sticky sap oozes out. Once dried in a day or two, however, it will be scraped into buckets, ready to be sold in the bazaar to middlemen and smugglers.
Asked how much money he gets for this first yield, Mahmoud is cagey.
"I'm only a poor man, I don't even own this land," he insists.
He says that for about five kilograms of opium, he gets 4000 to 5000 Afghanis, about £65. And no, he is not sure where the opium ends up or what it is used for, reports Sunday Herald
Afghanistan might be heading for its first free and fair elections, according to the United States, but its drug trade is growing so quickly that some fear the country could become a narco-state ruled by drugs barons, not the government.
The 2004 White House National Drug Control Strategy reports that after a two-year lapse, Afghanistan is again "the world's largest cultivator and producer" of opium and heroin. The province of Helmand alone is said to account for 75% of that output. In 2003 Afghan crops were more than double the 2002 crop, and this year's yield is expected to be even higher.
"Just as the Bush administration's Iraqi mission has been damaged by the scandal of prisoner abuse and other failures," the US anti-terror policy in Afghanistan "has been undercut by the rebirth of the Afghan poppy, the main ingredient in heroin", says Robert Weiner, a former spokesman for the United States Office of National Drug Policy and the US House Narcotics Committee.
He adds: "While the administration has made inroads into eradicating Colombian coca fields and is attacking Colombia's heroin as well, it has dangerously ignored Afghanistan's poppy problem."
Many Afghan local government politicians are equally bemused by the mixed messages coming from the central government, and from religious leaders.
In some eastern provinces - where poppy cultivation is well established - it is claimed that Friday prayer leaders have been telling worshippers that it's legal to grow opium, but not legal to use it.
Many say that such confusion is nothing new, and stems from the likes of past policies of the British government, which is leading international efforts to combat Afghan drugs. Initially, it tried offering farmers money to destroy their poppy crops. But as word spread, many grew the crop deliberately, expecting the British cash.
"When it did not come, they harvested the opium, so it made things far worse," says General Daud, the commander of the militia force known as the 6th Corps, and the real power in one of the big producing areas of Kunduz and Takher provinces.
The confusion about Afghan government policy continues.
It has decreed that 25% of the poppy crop should be eradicated or cut down. But Daud says many farmers have interpreted that to mean the other 75% is legal.
Weiner says: "Some of the worst culprits in this illicit trade have even been our closest allies, the members of the Northern Alliance - the opposition to the Taliban with whom we worked to retake the nation.
"While they were helping US forces weed out the Taliban, it seems that they were doing some gardening of their own too."
The question most people are asking now is how, with thousands of US troops on the ground, there has been a failure to control if not eradicate opium cultivation.
Many observers in Kabul say that given the approaching election, the reappearance of the opium trade is hardly surprising.
As one UN source put it: "The US needs [Afghanistan president Hamid] Karzai, Karzai needs the warlords, and the warlords need opium to finance themselves, otherwise they get troublesome. It's simply a case of expediency. What would you do with an election looming?"
Perhaps even more worrying is a UN report suggesting that the problem will get worse, with two out of every three Afghan farmers planning to increase their poppy crop in the next year or so.
While this might be Mahmoud Yusef's first year as a poppy farmer, it is unlikely to be his last.