President Hamid Karzai on Thursday strongly defended his recent meetings with former Islamic militia leaders, saying he had no intention of forming a coalition with them if he is elected president in September.
Karzai also said the security situation in Afghanistan was "quite all right," despite the killing of three European medical workers Wednesday and a series of recent attacks that have left dozens of people dead, including aid workers, election monitors, Afghan police officers and foreign military forces.
In a rare news conference in his heavily guarded palace, Karzai appeared impatient with critics and stung by recent reports in the American news media suggesting that he was corrupt. He said he was "really pained, really hurt" by the reports and vowed, "My honesty will be proven once I leave office."
The Afghan president is preparing to leave Monday on a foreign trip to gather political and economic support before elections planned in three months. He is scheduled to meet with President Bush at the White House on June 15.
Karzai was peppered with questions about his recent meetings with former Islamic militia leaders, with whom he has shared an uneasy governing coalition since late 2001. He has reportedly promised them a share in power if they support his candidacy.
But the president denied he had made any deals with the leaders, including former president Barhanuddin Rabbani, saying he had a duty to meet with a variety of Afghans to ensure peaceful elections and national unity.
"These figures are part of the reality of this country. We talk today and we will talk tomorrow," he said. He denied he was forming a new political alliance with the militia leaders, who are mistrusted by many Afghans because of their role in the destructive civil war of the 1990s.
"There is no coalition. There will not be a coalition . . . but negotiating, talking to all Afghans, that is my job," Karzai said. "It's a very legitimate thing. . . . Negotiations will solve more problems than violence."
Karzai said the militia leaders had brought him a proposal that included many areas of agreement, including the need for national unity and disarmament. But he also said he had encouraged some of the regional bosses to take government posts in Kabul.
The president outlined his campaign agenda, saying he sought to increase Afghans' average income to at least $500 a year, achieve disarmament nationwide and build democratic institutions.
Karzai insisted that there were no serious security problems in Afghanistan, only a few incidents that he said were "not an alarming thing."
He cited a foundation report that said most Afghans were more concerned about economic problems than lack of security, and he described Afghanistan as the safest country in the region.
More than 700 people have been killed nationwide in political violence and terrorist attacks since August, causing elections scheduled for this month to be postponed and prompting U.N. officials to question whether the vote could be protected when it does take place.
Karzai said he would consider amending the new election law after rival candidates protested this week against the requirement that they collect and copy 10,000 voter registration cards.