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    Karzai hits out at foreign interference

    KABUL (PAN): President Hamid Karzai, stressing the need for an Afghan-led election process, urged incoming legislators on Tuesday to enact legislation, giving legal cover to the presence of international troops in the country.

    Opening the new Parliament amid tight security in the city, the president took a swipe at foreigners for interfering in Afghanistan's internal affairs. "We faced serious problems due to foreign interference during the election process."

    Efforts were made to raise questions about the legitimacy of the 2009 presidential ballot and last year's parliamentary election, Karzai told the inaugural ceremony, which was attended by the top NATO commander in Afghanistan and Kabul-based diplomats.

    Billing the polls as a huge achievement for post-Taliban Afghanistan, he asked: "Which are the forces that seek to plunge our nascent system into a crisis of legitimacy and pit our three state pillars against one another?"

    On Friday, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the European Union, the United States, Canada and other members of the international community called for early convening of the 149-member lower house.

    Afghanistan's peaceful future lay in the building up of robust democratic institutions based on the rule of law and clear respect for the separation of powers, the UN mission said in a statement.

    Such forces must be resisted, tooth and nail, to thwart the "nefarious designs of Afghanistan's enemies", he added. One way of achieving that goal is to Afghanise the electoral process, the president suggested. An Afghan-led process, which would certainly face funding problems, would be in the interest of democracy in the country, he believed.

    Karzai said that $140 million was spent on the previous elections, a huge amount for one of the world's poorest countries. There were many questions which needed to be answered to do away with foreign meddling, the president added.

    Many countries of the world had passed through difficult times in their struggle to strengthen democracy, he said, urging Afghans to learn from their experiences.

    Giving a legal cover to the presence of NATO-led forces and defining their mandate in Afghanistan was one of the government's top priorities, he said, hoping that the new Parliament would help realise that objective.

    Under Article 90 of the Constitution, ratification of international treaties and agreements, or abrogation of the membership of Afghanistan, is the authority of Parliament.

    During his speech, Karzai vowed to intensify efforts at doing away with entities that ran a parallel government in the country -- a reference to private security firms. He said the firms involved in corruption and other illegal activity would be dissolved at any cost.

    "Some unnecessary offices of PRTs (provincial reconstruction teams) and international organisations create hurdles to the government," he complained. He insisted such offices should be closed.

    "We will become a sovereign nation only when we are able to defend our soil and counter insurgent threats," the president remarked.

    Referring to proposed security transition to Afghan lead by 2014, he appealed to the international community to continue extending the required assistance to the local forces.

    While asking the Taliban fighters to join the ongoing peace drive, Karzai renewed his call for conducting the war on terrorism in areas where militant safe heavens existed. However, he did not name any country.

    Afghanistan had cordial bilateral relations with neighbours and posed no threat to anyone, the president said, adding that his administration wanted to further consolidate its relations with all Muslim countries, particularly Saudi Arabia.

    Economic cooperation with Russia, India Turkey and neighbouring countries would be strengthened further, Karzai promised. He described Afghanistan's membership of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) was a significant achievement.

    ma/frm/mud