Hamid Karzai with Ashirul Amin
Princeton senior Ashirul Amin discusses the SPARKS program with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Hamid Karzai
President Karzai spoke in Richardson Auditorium to a packed audience that included Princeton students, faculty and staff.

photos: Denise Applewhite



Karzai lauds international cooperation in rebuilding Afghanistan

by Eric Quiñones
The international cooperation that freed Afghanistan from the grip of the Taliban regime represents the true spirit of mankind and must remain strong as the country continues to rebuild, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Friday, Sept. 26, in an address at Princeton University.

Thanking the nations that helped to oust the Taliban leadership and begin the reconstruction of his country, Karzai emphasized that the "cooperation of civilizations" is evidence that violent differences of religion and culture do not supersede the ideals of peace and security on which mankind is built.

Afghan Muslims vigorously supported the efforts of the United States and other nations to help them drive out the Taliban and install democracy in their country, Karzai said to a packed Richardson Auditorium. "They went after those who came using religion -- our religion -- to justify murder and killing and destruction. And we joined hands and drove them away."

Karzai came to the University at the invitation of SPARKS at Princeton, a student group whose members have worked in Afghanistan during the country's rebuilding. In conjunction with Karzai's government, SPARKS is establishing a school in the capital of Kabul, which will launch in November with 40 kindergarteners and eventually house 1,500 students.

Karzai's talk followed his visit this week to the United Nations, where he met with President Bush and leaders of other nations that have supported Afghanistan's rebuilding. The United States has pledged an additional $1.2 billion to support the effort.

In an optimistic address that was warmly received, Karzai -- a resistance leader who was forced out of Afghanistan during the Taliban's rule -- recalled returning during the war in his country that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. He said Afghan clergy members, tribal chiefs and other citizens constantly asked him about how much international support he had.

"I'm a very idealistic person. A lot of people don't like that. Idealism brings emotions in you, and I like emotional people. I don't like cool people. I'm not a calculating man -- I'm spontaneous. That drives you, that pushes you to action," he said.

"In my idealism, I would always curse those who told me that if you do not have help from the rest of the world, especially America and Europe, you would not succeed. It would really hurt my pride and my patriotism to be unable to get rid of evil in my country unless I had help from the big sources," Karzai said.

But he quickly realized that international cooperation was key to the future of Afghanistan, taking heed from his own people. "They have never come to ask us for food. They have never come to ask us for shelter. But they have come to ask us for continued cooperation from the rest of the world," he said.

Since being chosen as leader of the country's interim government in December 2001, Karzai has overseen a difficult reconstruction. He has sought an expansion of NATO-led peacekeeping forces outside of Kabul while the country develops its own policy and military forces. Taliban elements also remain inside and outside of Afghanistan's borders.

Many areas of the country are overrun by warlords, who use money from drug trafficking to finance their operations, Karzai said. Addressing the Princeton students, he warned them and other young people against taking drugs. "The money that drug dealers get from selling it to societies and to younger people is the money that goes to terrorism."

Responding to student questions, Karzai looked ahead to a democratic future in Afghanistan, which -- despite fears of those who associate Islam with terrorism -- does not run contrary to Muslim society.

"Islam speaks for a just society," he said. "How can you have justice if you don't have people voting and choosing their governments? Islam is totally compatible with democracy."

Following Karzai's speech, Princeton senior Ashirul Amin, a member of SPARKS, thanked the Afghan president for accepting the group's invitation and discussed the new school to be built in Kabul. "By bringing Afghanistan's diverse demographic groups together, the school will also aim to foster an environment of pluralism and interethnic understanding. We are excited and yet humbled to contribute in some small way to Afghanistan's reconstruction," Amin said.

Karzai's talk was sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the Liechtenstein Institute of Self-Determination and SPARKS at Princeton.

At a reception afterward, students from SPARKS presented Karzai with a glass plaque, and Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman offered a crystal tiger as a reminder of his visit to the University.

Earlier during his talk, Karzai joked about wanting to follow the path of U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Robert Finn, who is returning to his role as a visiting professor at Princeton. Tilghman, in the closing remarks of the lecture, invited Karzai to do so.

"You have clearly today demonstrated that you have the makings of a very fine teacher. When you have completed your task in Afghanistan," Tilghman said, pausing for a round of applause, "we have many more generations of students who could benefit from your wisdom."

The Webcast of the event will be archived in WebMedia.


Shirley M. Tilghman and Hamid Karzai
Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman presents President Karzai with a crystal tiger.

Karzai greets students from SPARK
Princeton senior Ana Barfield and other students involved in the SPARKS program greet President Karzai at a reception after his talk.

Karzai greets Tilghman and Ambassador Robert Finn
Before his talk, President Karzai is welcomed by Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; Robert Finn, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan; and Tilghman (from left).

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