NEW YORK — The $300 billion the United States has spent prosecuting the war in Iraq could have been better used stabilizing Afghanistan against the resurgence of the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an interview broadcast Sunday.
“Three hundred billion dollars? You give that to Afghanistan and we will be heaven in less than a year,” Karzai said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The interview, which was taped Tuesday for broadcast Sunday, signaled Karzai’s growing frustration with the administration that helped put him into power, just two days before he is scheduled to meet with President Bush in Washington.
At the same time that they are struggling with the insurgency in Iraq, the United States and its allies also face a renewed threat from the militant Islamist Taliban in Afghanistan, nearly five years after U.S. forces ousted the government that sheltered al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
More than 2,000 people, most of them militants, along with hundreds of civilians, aid workers and Afghan security personnel, have been killed so far this year in Afghanistan, while more than 100 foreign troops have died.
‘We are paying’ for inaction
Karzai denied that Afghanistan was out of control, saying, “It has difficulties, but it is not in a chaotic state.” But he said the international community had not done enough to address the root causes of unrest that fueled terrorism in Afghanistan.
“After the initial success in throwing out terrorism, the Taliban and their international sponsors in less than a month and a half in 2001, ... expectations went very high, in Afghanistan especially,” he said.
But that “made us forget one thing: While we had thrown terrorism away from Afghanistan, we had really not gone after their sources, their training grounds. ... And we are now paying for that.”
“The international community must take a much tougher action,” he added. “The international community must go to the sources of terrorism.”
Karzai suggested that the United States had taken its eye off Afghanistan, distracted by its fighting in Iraq, where it has spent hundreds of billions of dollars. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s infrastructure remains in shambles and its new democratic institutions are under assault, fueling discontent among ordinary Afghans, he said.
“We definitely need more money for reconstruction,” Karzai said. “We will be very happy if more money is given to us for reconstruction. Afghanistan will be a very prosperous country if that sort of assistance is given to Afghanistan.”
With the sort of funding the United States has put into Iraq, “we will be the best country in that part of the world,“ he added. “And I hope it happens.”
Tension with Pakistan over bin Laden
The interview was conducted before a French newspaper reported late last week that the French foreign service believed bin Laden had died recently in Pakistan. Asked whether he knew where bin Laden was, though, Karzai said he believed the terrorist leader was, indeed, in Pakistan.
Karzai and Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, have publicly argued over whether Pakistan is doing enough to rein in al-Qaida and other terrorists believed to be hiding in Pakistan along the Afghan border. Karzai said on “Meet the Press” that Afghanistan had regularly forwarded leads to Pakistan intelligence about “terrorist sanctuaries” but that little action had been taken.
“We have a serious problem in this regard,” he said. “When I say we must go to the sources of terrorism, where they are trained, where they equipped, where they are given money, where they are given motivation and sent to kill international coalition forces, this is what I mean.”
Karzai stopped short of accusing Pakistan of protecting bin Laden, but he added, “If we all tried to act collectively, he would not be able to hide.”
By MSNBC.com’s Alex Johnson
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