Televised talk of freedom and unity tailored to aid donors rather than countrymen, says analyst

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 January, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2002, 12:00am

Prime Minister Hamid Karzai's first televised speech to the nation was upbeat and full of hope, but observers say it was aimed not at the Afghan people but at Western aid donors.

In the speech on Wednesday night, Mr Karzai put his 18-day-old administration on the map, committing it to a free economy and freedom of speech and declaring security his priority.

The most pressing task to ensure stability was creation of a national army, and armed factions should be incorporated to form such a force as soon as possible.

'The rule of the gun is the greatest obstacle to everlasting peace and security in our country,' he said.

An army would meet threats to the 'national security of our country's independence and territorial independence'.

Social and economic progress was dependent on a free market economy and private sector development and the Government would therefore lessen its interference in economic affairs.

'This will pave the way for freedom and private sector initiative,' Mr Karzai told Afghan Television.

The constitution guaranteed freedom of speech and of the press and political and social freedom, he added.

But Mr Karzai's speech was to a limited audience. After a decade of civil war, few Afghans have televisions and electricity is still in limited supply. Even in the capital, Kabul, power is intermittent. But there is a growing market for satellite television and members of Mr Karzai's cabinet all have satellite telephones.

Islamabad-based political analyst Husain Haqqani, a former ambassador, said the comments were directed not at Afghans in the country, but at the Afghan diaspora in the West and at nations who had pledged to help with reconstruction.

'Mr Karzai is making all the right noises for his constituency - which is essentially outside of Afghanistan,' Mr Haqqani said. 'He was chosen as prime minister because he is better known and liked in Washington than in rural Afghanistan. The real hope that everyone has for him is that he will bring money from donors, so when he says these things he is essentially making an appeal to those groups.'

Mr Haqqani said the interim administration was not the united body that it was being portrayed as and that the warlord mentality that prevailed during the 1990s had returned.

'The ground reality is that there is extortion and Afghanistan is back to the chaos of pre-Taleban days, with only Kabul relatively stable,' he said. 'The central authority is not necessarily fully in control of all of Afghanistan.'

Mr Haqqani said talk of a national army was premature. This could only be created by disarming the warlords and their national armies. The Northern Alliance, which helped pave the way for Mr Karzai's leadership, still opposed international peacekeepers.

'The Northern Alliance is getting too much of its own way,' he said. 'The truth is that the three most important aspects of government - the Interior Ministry, or the police, defence and foreign affairs - are in the hands of three members of the Northern Alliance who come from the same village in the Panjsher Valley.

'The Afghans have had many agreements in the past, but the problem is to get them to implement them. Secondly, it all depends on who controls what in which area,' Mr Haqqani said.