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Afghan Opposition Wants 'Fundamental Reforms'


One many who would know more than most about the inner workings of Afghan politics is Abdullah Abdullah. He's the man who came in second to Hamid Karzai in the last presidential election. He passed up a chance to try to beat Karzai in a runoff, saying he was dropping out because a vote would be rigged. Since then, Abdullah Abdullah has been the major opposition figure in Afghanistan. He's in Washington, D.C. this week, and joined us in our studio.

Good morning.

Mr. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH (Coalition for Change and Hope): Good morning to you.

MONTAGNE: You said last week that unless your government makes fundamental reforms, Afghanistan will become, and I'm quoting you, "worse than the Middle East." What did you mean, exactly?

Mr. ABDULLAH: What I mean exactly is that in the past two to three years, we have seen the government of Afghanistan in diverse gear as far as reform and betterment of the situation is concerned, and as well as sticking to the democratic process. We built some intuitions. We have our constitution. We have a parliament.

The parliament's decisions are being ignored. The constitution is being violated. I think there is a growing gap between the people of Afghanistan and the government of Afghanistan.

And as a result of this, the will of the Afghan people have been ignored all along. It shows that the leader in charge in Afghanistan today - it's getting to the shoes(ph) of those despotic leaders elsewhere, where they think I am the state. I am the nation. And that's dangerous. And in Afghanistan, the patience of the people shouldn't be tested beyond what is already being tested.

MONTAGNE: But realistically, Afghanistan is poor. President Karzai is barely in charge of Kabul. What would there be to rise up against?

Mr. ABDULLAH: The fact that so far, there haven't been demonstrations as such, civil unrest and so on and so forth, that's because of the people of Afghanistan don't want to do anything. So the Taliban will take advantage of this. So the people of Afghanistan have shown restraint. But that does not mean and shouldn't be interpreted that everybody can go beyond its limits.

MONTAGNE: But what do you make of the fact that the biggest and by far most violent demonstrations in all these years happened last week, and they were not about freedom or jobs or against corruption, but about a religious grievance -maybe an understandable one - against an American pastor who burned the Koran? And this happened in the safest city in the safest province in the country.

Mr. ABDULLAH: Yes, it happened in Mazar-i-Sharif. It happened elsewhere, as well, when the president of a country goes out and provoked the people. If you look at the incident, he spoke out on Thursday.

MONTAGNE: President Karzai.

Mr. ABDULLAH: President Karzai. And the day after, there were reaction in the mosques. And then, of course, according to the investigation by the government itself, the Taliban-related people took advantage of the situation and turned it into violence. Otherwise, it would have been a civil reaction, like in other parts of the country. So that shows lack of sense of direction with the leadership of the country, with Mr. Karzai. For him, the international community is the enemy number one, loyal opposition is the enemy number two. And then Taliban - he calls the Taliban as brothers. So it was the work of his brothers what happened.

MONTAGNE: Now, you were with the Northern Alliance, which was a pretty direct enemy of the Taliban back in the late '90s. What do you think of this push for reconciliation with Taliban leaders and reintegration of the foot soldiers?

Mr. ABDULLAH: I would say that majority of the people of Afghanistan are against Talibanization of the country. There is no doubt about this. To reconcile with the Taliban, you cannot ignore a few factors: The Taliban idea or aim is not to be accommodated in a democratic system, but rather to bring it down. At the same time, Taliban have been able to recruit a lot of people because of other factors. That's the area that we can affect, we can have an impact, by providing the services to the people of Afghanistan, better governance and better hopes. And that is where the President Karzai's government is failing.

MONTAGNE: Abdullah Abdullah is the leading opposition figure in Afghanistan, as head of the Coalition for Change and Hope.

Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. ABDULLAH: You're welcome.

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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.