Rice Lauds Karzai In Brief Afghan Visit

By Glenn Kessler and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 29, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan, June 28 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lavishly praised embattled Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday, arguing that his leadership shows how far Afghanistan has come since the fall of the Taliban 4 1/2 years ago. "I don't know anyone who is more admired or respected by the international community" than Karzai, Rice said.

During a 90-minute meeting, Rice told Karzai that the administration was considering a boost in reconstruction funding, an aide to Rice said. The additional money -- to be directed especially at troubled areas in the south -- would be accompanied by a shift from big nationwide projects such as roads to smaller community projects.

Rice's itinerary on her third trip here showed how far Afghanistan still has to go. With a surge of violence touching even the capital in recent weeks, she passed her time almost entirely behind the heavily guarded high walls and concrete barriers of the U.S. Embassy and the presidential compound, which are about a half-mile apart. She spent barely four hours on the ground and met with no opposition or parliamentary leaders.

On Rice's first trip here as secretary 15 months ago, she visited a newly reopened museum and met with Afghan women, and her motorcade crisscrossed a city that appeared to be slowly coming back to life after decades of civil war. But the signs of rebirth were compromised last month when a riot broke out after a U.S. military vehicle accidentally plowed into a crowd.

The violence shook confidence in Karzai among many Afghans. U.S. officials also have been surprised by the strength of the Taliban offensive this year, which comes as U.S. forces are turning over responsibility for southern areas to a NATO-led force.

Rice late last week abruptly decided to add stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan to her planned trip to a foreign ministers meeting in Moscow.

Karzai in recent weeks has strongly criticized Pakistan, saying it is not doing enough to prevent al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents from taking sanctuary in its border regions.

In recent months, Karzai has received international criticism for his appointment of police officials who had been accused of human rights abuses, his promotion of what he calls "community police" forces that some fear could signal the return of militias, and his government's promulgation of draft media restrictions that seek to prevent news reporting "which deteriorates the morale of the public."

The Rice aide described the southern border of Afghanistan as a "very dangerous area" where coalition forces are challenging fighters and "they are challenging right back."

After meeting with Karzai, Rice told reporters that "Afghanistan has determined enemies" who had "raped and pillaged and tried to destroy this country."

Rice said the United States had once made the mistake of ignoring Afghanistan -- after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 and the subsequent fall of their client government, which gave rise to the Taliban. She said the United States would not repeat that mistake. "We are not going to tire, we are not going to leave," she said.

Rice and Karzai became defensive when reporters, noting that Karzai rarely travels outside Kabul, suggested that they appeared too optimistic about the problems Afghanistan faced. "Every month I am in one of the Afghan provinces," Karzai said.

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