Karzai Asks Islamic Leaders to Help Afghans

Interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai told religious leaders from across Afghanistan on Sunday that they wouldn't be punished for supporting the Taliban, and asked for their help in rebuilding the country.

"We should not arrest people on the pretext of being Taliban," Karzai told a seminar of mullahs from every province of Afghanistan. "A powerful hand was behind the Taliban. I don't think there are any Taliban here any more."

Karzai recited poetry and spoke about Islamic responsibility in a 30-minute speech to dozens of religious leaders in turbans at the studios of Kabul television. He said the mullahs have an important role to play in rebuilding the country.

"We appreciate you," Karzai told the religious leaders. "It is the responsibility of all to help release Afghanistan from poverty."

Karzai's interim government took office in December after a U.S.-led bombing campaign and an Afghan resistance drove the Taliban religious militia from power. The Taliban based their authority on their strict interpretation of Islam.

Karzai also denounced corruption, appealing to public servants to help make his government clean.

"We will give you bigger salaries, but do not take bribes," he said. "With a clean administration you can do business, you can get work."

He also said Afghanistan must build its economy so it won't have to depend on foreign assistance.

"Afghanistan has a lot of money, but the money is outside the country with the businessmen," he said. "Businessmen have to bring money into our country. We must not beg other countries, so one day Afghanistan can stand up on its own legs."

The mullahs, invited by the government from across Afghanistan, appeared pleased with the speech.

"The role of the mullahs is to cooperate with the government," said Mullah Ghiasi, who traveled to the Afghan capital from the western city of Herat. "The mullahs have a very important role in the administration. We can help."