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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Karzai Seeks More Peacekeepers

Security: The interim Afghan leader asks U.N. council to approve an increase in troops. Washington and others oppose the idea.

January 31, 2002|WILLIAM ORME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — Afghanistan's new leader asked the Security Council on Wednesday to approve the deployment of peacekeeping troops throughout his war-racked country, a request opposed by Washington and the European powers leading the small U.N.-backed force now in Kabul.

"Security is the key issue" in Afghanistan today, interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai stressed in a brief but pointed address to the Security Council. Saying he was reflecting a broad national consensus, Karzai asked the council to increase the size and duration of the peacekeeping mission, now restricted to Kabul, the capital, and scheduled to end in May.

"The extension of the presence of the multinational forces in Kabul, and expanding their presence in other cities, will signal the ongoing commitment of the international community to peace and security in Afghanistan," Karzai said in his first appearance at the United Nations, which engineered the installation of his government. "We hope that you would authorize an extension and expansion of the mandate of these forces."

Although diplomats here say Karzai is unlikely to secure anything close to the tenfold expansion of the force that some U.N. officials have privately urged, many now expect the foreign military presence in Afghanistan to grow larger and last longer than the council originally envisioned.

Donors cannot deliver the nearly $5 billion in aid recently pledged to Afghanistan unless the government gets help in controlling criminal gangs and tribal warfare, U.N. officials say.

"Security is the foundation for peace, for stability and for reconstruction as well," Karzai said in his speech.

Karzai is riding a wave of popularity both at home and in Western leadership circles, where he is viewed as an astute political mediator with a sophisticated grasp of global politics--and an unassailable domestic pedigree as an aristocrat from a leading tribe in the country's dominant ethnic group.

President Bush singled him out as an honored guest Tuesday at the State of the Union speech, and Karzai was embraced by a clutch of ambassadors here Wednesday morning like a triumphant athlete. His day in New York also included a somber visit to the World Trade Center site, where he left flowers, and a well-received speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.

"Karzai is considered the best possible partner, not only by the United States, but by the rest of the Security Council," said a European ambassador who asked not to be named.

Many diplomats posted here don't disguise their hopes that Karzai will emerge as Afghanistan's president if elections are held as expected next year.

"Our people deserve the creation of a democratic government, and we intend to act on their wishes," Karzai promised the council Wednesday.

The electoral process got underway formally last week, when the chief U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, named 21 people to a panel that will in turn convene a loya jirga, or grand council. The loya jirga will be charged with drafting a constitution and rules for electing a permanent government.

Informally, the election campaign may already have begun. After Karzai's brisk, businesslike presentation to the Security Council, he held a long and often emotional meeting with about 500 members of New York's Afghan community a few blocks away at a midtown hotel. His appearance prompted a thunderous ovation, followed by a rousing, eye-misting chorus of the Afghan national anthem and the presentation of enormous bouquets by children in traditional dress.

In contrast to his plea for outside military help to the Security Council, Karzai spoke passionately to the New York Afghans of the need for self-sufficiency based on "national unity" and a submergence of ethnic differences.

"We are going to build a new future, a new Afghanistan, and in that Afghanistan we are not going to seek revenge," he said.

As Karzai noted--he pointed out, to enthusiastic applause, a row of black-turbaned Afghan Sikhs on one side of the ballroom and a group of Orthodox Afghan Jews to his left--the New York crowd itself reflected a remarkably broad spectrum of Afghan society. He urged the diverse assemblage of sharp-suited bankers, leather-jacketed workmen and professional women dressed in both Park Avenue finery and elegant traditional head scarves to "come back home and raise your children in Afghanistan."

But to lure back emigrant talent, he acknowledged, the new Afghanistan must be governed "by the rule of law," and he made it clear at the United Nations that he believes the country needs many more foreign troops in more places to make that transition possible.

About 2,000 foreign peacekeeping troops patrol Kabul and its environs, and there are plans to boost that to 5,000 by the end of February.

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