Afghans Need Help to Sustain Gov't

Afghanistan (search) needs international help to keep its postelection government from dissolving into corrupt factions and to help regular Afghans maintain faith in democracy, the senior House foreign affairs lawmaker said Thursday.

Rep. Henry Hyde (search), R-Ill., chairman of the House International Relations Committee, told a hearing on U.S. Afghanistan policy that disappointing voter turnout during Sunday's legislative elections, 20 percent below the presidential vote in October, might have been a symptom of Afghan disenchantment with the democratic process.

Hyde said failure by the world to help fight the country's huge problem of illegal drug production and smuggling, insurgency by the formerly ruling Taliban militia and citizen apathy would "undermine the credibility of the democratic process."

The State Department's Afghanistan coordinator, Maureen Quinn (search), said the elections were "calm, orderly and secure" despite huge logistical and procedural obstacles, which included almost 6,000 candidates and 142 tons of ballots distributed by airplanes, helicopters, trucks, horses and donkeys.

Still, she said "urgent steps" are needed to keep Afghans safe and the government free of corruption.

Rep. Tom Lantos (search) of California, the committee's top Democrat, criticized NATO for what he considered a weak presence in Afghanistan.

He said that South Asian country is "one of the great potential success stories in the civilized world, which still hangs in the balance because NATO is so timid, pathetic and unwilling to step up."

Peter Rodman (search), an international security affairs official at the Defense Department, said certain NATO countries were helping in Afghanistan, while others "don't go to the latrine without voting in parliament. This is not helpful."

He did not say which countries he meant.

Lantos also asked Rodman to evaluate comments made Tuesday by Afghan President Hamid Karzai (search), who challenged the need for major foreign military operations in his country.

"Was this a momentary lapse of realism?" Lantos asked. "What was behind this incredibly puzzling and, to some of us, disconnected statement from reality?"

Rodman said he wasn't sure what Karzai was thinking.

"We see this as, the fight is still on, and he knows that," Rodman said. "Operationally, our relationship with them is good."

Speaking at the Pentagon, President Bush said 18,000 U.S. troops serving in the Afghan campaign have not yet finished their mission.

"The international community is helping Afghanistan become a lasting democracy," he told reporters after getting a military briefing on the global war on terrorism.

Karzai had said that in tackling the militants, foreign governments should instead "concentrate on where terrorists are trained, on their bases" — a veiled reference to support that Taliban insurgents allegedly get in neighboring Pakistan.