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Karzai calls for help with economy at start of US visit
Afghan President Hamid Karzai pleaded for foreign help in reconstructing his country’s war-ravaged economy after arriving in Washington for a fence-mending meeting with US President Barack Obama.
At a press conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Karzai called for a reduction of civilian casualties in operations by US-led Nato forces in the country. Deaths and injuries to non-combatants have sparked dozens of protests across the country in the last year and are a source of great resentment within the Afghan population.
The Afghan president also said there should be respect for judicial independence, a probable reference to the US-controlled prison at the Bagram airfield, near Kabul, which his government wants handed over to local control.
But Karzai made no public reference to his “peace-at-any-cost” plan to talk to the Taliban and win over Taliban fighters, which has received support at international conferences but is reported to have given rise to some misgivings in the Obama administration.
Clinton promised a “long-term commitment by the American people to the Afghan people”, ahead of next year’s planned reduction of US troop levels. Charges that Washington and its allies have walked away from Afghanistan in the past, particularly after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in the 1990s, are widespread in Afghanistan.
Karzai’s spokesperson Waheed Omer predicted four days of “frank discussions” when the president and his entourage arrived on Monday.
Relations between Karzai and the Obama administration were tense from the start and were worsened by the row over fraud in last year’s Afghan presidential election.
In Kabul, top UN diplomat Staffan de Mistura signed an agreement with leading election official Fazel Ahmad Manawi committing foreign countries to financial support for this year’s general election.
The government announced the dissolution of 152 Afghan and 20 international aid organisations – some at their own request, some because they have run out of cash and some for unspecified “misconduct”.
The role of NGOs has proved controversial in a country where the local population has seen little improvement in its living standards since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.