KABUL – President Hamid Karzai warned the international community Wednesday to stay clear of getting involved in governance within Afghanistan, as the country prepares to go to the polls to elect a new president later this year.
Speaking alongside NATO's secretary-general, Karzai told a news conference in Kabul that his government's foreign partners should respect and honor his country's independence.
"Afghanistan ... will never be a puppet state," Karzai said.
Karzai faces re-election in August, at a time when the country is embroiled in a vicious Taliban-led insurgency, and the performance of his government has been criticized by the incoming President Barack Obama's administration and other Western capitals as inefficient and corrupt.
As the new U.S. administration shifts the focus from the Iraq war to Afghanistan, Obama has also ordered a review of America's strategy in the region. The results of the review are expected later this month.
In response to a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, Obama has also ordered thousands of new troops to the country's south — the Taliban's heartland — this year and his administration has urged other NATO allies to do more.
Karzai said that he appreciates the work that the U.S. and other members of the international community have done so far in the fight against terrorism and the reconstruction of the country.
Karzai said that some in the international community are proposing that the power of the central government should be weakened, without explaining who are those behind such an idea.
"That is not their job," Karzai said.
"The issue of governance and the creation of (a mechanism for) good governance is the work of the Afghan people," Karzai said.
Karzai was responding to a question from an Afghan journalist who suggested that international forces operating in the provinces were trying to directly support local leaders there.
Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Afghanistan and Iraq, recently told The New York Times that he had warned the Obama administration that any attempts to focus on local areas at the expense of the central government risked being "regarded as hostile policy."
"Some will regard it as an effort to break up the Afghan state, which would be regarded as hostile policy," Khalilzad, who is an Afghan-American, told the newspaper in January.
Sticking to a populist tone Karzai said that the international community can only do its job with Afghan people's support.
"With Afghanistan there should be respect and honor, and we will also respect and honor our allies," Karzai said. "Afghanistan now is the owner of its land and nobody can disrupt our country," he said.
A reminder of the conflict happened earlier in the day when a roadside blast in the capital hit a civilian vehicle, wounding three people.
The bomb went off as the vehicle passed a gas station in western Kabul, the Interior Ministry said, without providing further details.
Taliban militants regularly use roadside bombs to attack Afghan and foreign troops in the country but the majority of the victims are civilians.