In his first public comments since handily winning Afghanistan's first democratic election, President Hamid Karzai promised Thursday to assemble a "representative" government. But he said he did not feel bound to offer top cabinet positions to his defeated rivals, and he vowed that drug dealers and militia commanders would have no part in the new Afghanistan.
"The Afghan people have voted for a government based on laws, based on institutions, and that is what we are going to provide for them," said Karzai, who was officially declared the winner Wednesday after a protracted vote count and an investigation of alleged fraud at the polls. The election was held Oct. 9.
Asked if his new government would be rid of the "warlords and drug money" that have tainted his interim administration, Karzai was adamant. "There will not be any private militia forces in Afghanistan. That's the first demand of the Afghan people," he said. "There will definitely, definitely not be any drug thing in Afghanistan."
But the Afghan president did make an amnesty offer to fighters and supporters of the defeated Taliban movement, some of whom have been waging an insurgency against Afghan and U.S. troops from havens in neighboring Pakistan. He said thousands of Taliban loyalists were welcome to return, except for the handful linked to al Qaeda or terrorist acts.
"We would like all Afghans to come and participate in the rebuilding of this country -- all Afghans. The Taliban as well. There are a few of them, maybe 50 to a hundred of them, that have an association with al Qaeda or terrorism, or have committed crimes against the people -- they are not welcome," Karzai said. "The rest . . . are welcome to participate in the making of this country."
Karzai pledged to make security "our first priority." He spoke on the grounds of his fortified palace, surrounded by private American guards carrying assault rifles -- a reminder that even as this country enters a new, democratic phase, security is far from assured. The president has already survived at least two apparent attempts on his life.
Another reminder of the tense situation was the unresolved fate of three foreign U.N. workers, kidnapped more than a week ago by a Taliban splinter group. The group, Jaish-e-Muslimeen, or Army of Muslims, has threatened to kill the three if Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners were not freed from U.S. military jails. The kidnappers originally set a Wednesday deadline but have extended it through Friday while they negotiate with a government intermediary.
Karzai did not comment on the hostage situation, except to say, "We hope, with the help of God, that we have success in releasing them." Diplomatic sources said one of the three being held, Annetta Flanigan, who holds joint British and Irish citizenship, was seriously ill and in need of immediate medical attention.
Karzai has served as interim president since being appointed by an international conference near Bonn shortly after the Taliban was driven from power in late 2001. As part of the Bonn accord, Karzai formed a coalition government with regional power bosses and local militia commanders. These warlords, as they are called, fought against the Taliban, but some were implicated in human rights abuses, corruption and drug trafficking.
Karzai at first moved gingerly against the militia leaders despite international pressure to curb their powers. But many Afghan and foreign analysts said Karzai's commanding election victory -- he won 55.4 percent of the vote over 17 rivals -- gives him the legitimacy and mandate to move aggressively to disarm militia commanders.
Karzai's political strength was reinforced Wednesday, when a group of his opponents pledged to accept him as the winner, despite lingering concerns about scattered irregularities at the polls.
"For me, Afghanistan's national interests are the most important," said Yonus Qanooni, the former interior and education minister, who finished second with 16 percent of the vote. "If we don't accept the result, the country will go toward a crisis."
A spokesman for Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum, an Uzbek militia leader who also ran for president, said that the public had a "historical desire" for elections and that it was "good that Afghans will now live through ballots and not bullets."
While the election confirmed support for Karzai, a Pashtun, the results underscored ethnic and regional divisions in the country. Qanooni, a Tajik, won heavily in Tajik areas; Dostum scored strongly in Uzbek areas; and another ex-militia leader, Mohamed Mohaqiq, won a majority in his ethnic Hazara community.