NEW YORK – Afghan President Hamid Karzai (search), who believes Usama bin Laden is hiding in the rugged mountain peaks that border Pakistan, said Friday that the Al Qaeda terrorist network in his country has been wiped out.
Karzai warned, however, that unless the world steps up its aid and sends more troops, Islamic radicals could regain control in Afghanistan and stage more terror attacks in the West. He called on the United States to press Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (search) to crack down on religious leaders helping Taliban fighters stage attacks across the border.
"There is no Al Qaeda (search) network anymore in Afghanistan," he said in an interview with The Associated Press at his heavily guarded hotel in New York. "They are in hiding. Their leadership is in hiding. Their rank-and-file is in hiding. They are no longer a viable underground organization."
He argued for more international soldiers to be deployed beyond the Afghan capital, Kabul (search), and into the regions where increasing lawlessness — often by thieving warlords and their private armies — is causing many Afghans to long for the security that marked the rule of the rigid Taliban regime.
Before being toppled by the U.S.-led coalition in late 2001, the Taliban (search) imposed a harsh rule that saw the hands of thieves amputated and convicted killers executed in stadiums before thousands of spectators. Their rule by terror brought relative security to most parts of Afghanistan.
"If we do not receive the assistance we need, if we do not receive the security assistance we need ... Afghanistan will not stabilize and the instability in Afghanistan will again cause damage to the rest of the world like it did (before)," referring to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
A decision will be made in the coming weeks on whether to expand the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan outside of Kabul, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson (search) said Friday. NATO took charge of the 5,000-member international force last month from Germany and the Netherlands, but its operation is confined to Kabul.
Karzai said that while Musharraf is hitting out at Al Qaeda, he isn't tackling the Taliban with the same fervor or punishing their Pakistani supporters.
"Pakistan has done quite a lot on the Al Qaeda elements. They have delivered a lot of Al Qaeda elements to the Americans, but Pakistan has not done enough on the regional elements of terrorism, the local elements. That is where we want Pakistan to take more action."
The Taliban are coming by the thousands from Pakistan to carry out attacks in Afghanistan, he said. Attacks in recent months have been increasingly bold, often targeting international charities, Afghan aid workers and Afghans working with Karzai's government.
While he did not implicate Musharraf's government, Karzai alluded to extremist religious clerics in Pakistan who openly support the Taliban and even suggest it is a religious duty to protect the defeated religious militia. Karzai said the clerics use their madrassas, or Islamic schools, to train and indoctrinate recruits to wage war on his administration.
"There is no doubt that they are coming from Pakistan and a lot of them (are) conducting operations in Afghanistan," he said. "We see them. There is also no doubt that they receive some assistance from inside Pakistan."
In a speech Thursday to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Karzai called for Musharraf to shut down some madrassas.
In the AP interview, Karzai called for a quick and decisive attack against "all those (in Pakistan) trying to destabilize Afghanistan . . . those who are promoting extremist activity in Afghanistan, all those who are using places disguised as madrassas to hurt Afghanistan."
In last year's general elections in Pakistan, the hardline religious right, campaigning on a strong anti-American platform, gained control of two key provinces that border Afghanistan and where fugitive Taliban are believed to have found a safe haven.
Pakistan's religious right has been strongly critical of Musharraf, who has warned against "Talibanization" of the region. Since taking office, the provincial authorities have restricted the mixing of males and females, outlawed male doctors from treating women and banned music on buses — all restrictions that the Taliban imposed in Afghanistan.
While saying he has a good personal relationship with Musharraf, Karzai said the Pakistani leader hasn't forced everyone in his country aboard the anti-terrorist campaign.
"I believe it is important for us all to work together and to work on the same platform, that we cannot have platforms within platforms," Karzai said. It has to be one platform and that has to be shared in terms of tactical and strategic objectives by all."