Los Angeles Times

KABUL, Afghanistan In his first public address, interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai urged the Afghan people yesterday to unite and work for peace in this still-troubled country.

“Dear compatriots, Afghanistan is in dire need of peace,” Karzai said near the beginning of his 10-minute speech, which, because it was broadcast on limited-range Kabul Television, wasn”t seen by much of the country.

Since being installed Dec. 22, Karzai has spent much of his time behind closed doors in meetings with elders from various provinces as well as international emissaries and government ministers.

His first public speech staked out a clear position in opposition to the former Taliban regime and underscored his sensitivity to the need to improve, as quickly as possible, the country”s deprived economy.

“The existence of armed people is a hindrance to the peace and security,” he said, referring to the remaining Taliban members and fighters with the al-Qaida terrorist network adrift in the country.

Afghanistan should have a national army that can protect the country”s borders from incursions, Karzai said. Many of the Taliban”s members came from outside the country, he pointed out, and the fundamentalist regime wouldn”t have been able to win political power if the country hadn”t been split into disparate territories controlled by local commanders.

Karzai”s speech outlined his policy priorities and emphasized the hard road ahead for the country. In a style that was reminiscent of President John F. Kennedy”s famous exhortation to “ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country,” Karzai urged every Afghan to join in the effort to remake the country.

But he also pledged his commitment to bring a just government to Afghanistan. He announced that the Afghan Constitution that was written during the reign of the exiled king, Mohammad Zaher Shah, which ensures “social and political freedom for all Afghans,” will again be in effect.

He added that he wants a government that empowers the people of Afghanistan a sharp contrast to the many years in which ordinary Afghans felt subjected to the whims, successively, of the country”s Soviet rulers, feuding warlords and the Taliban.

And he assured Afghans that he is committed to the process of a “loya jirga,” the tribal council that Afghans traditionally use to choose their leaders.

His top four policy priorities were:

n Protection of the country from illegal bills that devalue Afghanistan”s currency.

n Enhancement of productivity in small factories and other business and manufacturing concerns.

n Job creation.

n Privatization and a reduction in government interference in business.

“I want your cooperation and the cooperation and participation of every Afghan, individually and collectively, to help in this project,” Karzai said.

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