June 14, 2002
1239 IST

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Karzai vows to fight 'warlordism' and 'corruption'

Shyam Bhatia in Kabul

After decades of war, misery and foreign intervention Afghanistan has formally pinned its hopes on Hamid Karzai who has been elected president in the first free, democratic election the country has ever experienced.

Karzai told that he wanted 'as open an election as possible' to get a mandate to fight what he called the twin evils of 'warlordism' and 'corruption'.

"We need security, we need peace, we need stability, we need an administration in control of all of Afghanistan," he said, speaking in Afghanistan's two main languages -- Pashto and Dari.

Turning to the Taliban, Karzai said they had been 'hijacked by the foreign people' -- an apparent reference to foreign Islamic activists such as Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda activists.

Karzai's spokesman, Ashraf Ghani, described the Loya Jirga meeting and the election as 'a fantastic display of national unity'.

"I think the meeting is really running forward. There is a sense that Mr Karzai is a leader with a sense of vision and the country is entering a phase of stability," he said. "The people of Afghanistan have not had a voice for 23 years and are extremely anxious to say what is on their minds."

Responding to allegations of the presidential election being 'fixed', Ghani said, "Politics is always at two levels: the level of the political elite, bargaining and the level of representation. If we are to expect no negotiations in the political arena, that would be foolhardy."

The 44-year-old Karzai, one time deputy foreign minister, was elected by secret ballot with more than 75 per cent of the vote in Afghanistan's Loya Jirga national council on Thursday night.

Out of more than 1500 delegates, who cast their ballots, Karzai sailed through with 1,295 votes.

Runners up were a woman candidate, Masoodeh Jalal, a paediatrician with the World Food Programme, who won 121 votes and a government bureaucrat, Mir Mohammad Mahfouz Nedaei, who attracted 89 votes.

"We will defend our national sovereignty at the price of our blood," Karzai said immediately after he was confirmed as the winner of the election.

The next step is for Karzai to choose a vice-president and a Cabinet that reflects the ethnic diversity of the country.

According to diplomatic sources, a deal was agreed earlier in the week that secured Karzai the support of the powerful Tajik dominated and pro-India Northern Alliance.

Under the deal the Northern Alliance agreed to back Karzai for president, provided he dropped his earlier idea to have former King Zahir Shah sworn in as titular president.

The king is not popular among the Tajiks, who believe he could become a rallying point for disaffected Pushtuns, including those who previously supported the Taliban.

The Northern Alliance has also been required to make concessions, according to the sources.

They currently control the three most powerful ministries in Afghanistan -- defence, interior and foreign affairs.

Under the terms of the deal they will relinquish control of at least one ministry.

Interior Minister Yousef Qanooni, whose family has lived in Delhi for years, has already agreed to be the sacrificial lamb.

But there has also been talk of Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah being moved to another job, or even being excluded from government altogether.

"I am ready to sacrifice for the sake of the country," Abdullah told "But I believe I still have something to offer."

Although Karzai's victory was a foregone conclusion, there was plenty of free discussion in the three days leading up to his election. Some delegates, particularly the women, took the opportunity to publicly criticise many of the military commanders whom they accused of contributing to Afghanistan's crisis.

Among the targets of anger was the Defence Minister General Mohammed Fahim, who was held responsible for some of the worst bombing atrocities in Kabul during the Afghan civil war.

Some delegates also accused the United States of manipulating the presidential election to ensure Karzai's election. Indeed accusations of a stitch up seemed to be supported on Wednesday when the chairman of the Jirga, Professor Ismael Qasimyar, announced that Karzai had been elected by popular acclaim.

He was forced to roll back his announcement after protests from the delegates on the floor.

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