In a historic debate today in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai
was challenged by two of his main opponents in next week's presidential election on issues of government corruption, foreign troops in Afghanistan, and negotiations with the Taliban.
"When I talk to people on the ground, their main concern is corruption, and the placement of former warlords and murderers in government," said Ramzan Bashardost
. "There is no security without justice."
Never before have Afghans seen an incumbent president challenged by his opponents on live television and radio.
Referring to Karzai's appointment of Mohammed Qasim Fahim as a running mate, Ashraf Ghani
said, "In my years as Finance Minister, I never made a deal with a warlord."
"We cannot bring peace and stability to the country by using military power alone," added Ghani, a former World Bank official. "We must build confidence in the Afghan central government."
President Karzai said: "People said that I compromised a lot. Yes! I compromised. I compromised for the national interests of Afghanistan, for peace in Afghanistan, and for reconciliation and to contribute to national unity and for the development of Afghanistan."
On NATO forces in Afghanistan, Karzai said, "We should host foreign troops as our guests as they fight the real war on terror, which is not in Afghanistan." Karzai suggested that the terrorists' camps and training facilities are in neighboring Pakistan,"outside of our borders."
The debate was hosted by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan
(known locally as Radio Azadi) and broadcast nationwide on Radio Azadi and Afghanistan's state television channel RTA.
Radio Azadi Director Akbar Ayazi moderated the debate and noted that it was the first and only time President Karzai agreed to face his chief rivals during the campaign. Karzai's main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah
, had earlier pulled out of the debate.
"Never before have Afghans seen an incumbent president challenged by his opponents on live television and radio," said Ayazi. "Today was a great day for Afghan democracy and I hope the peaceful, free exchange of ideas was informative for those heading to the polls on Thursday."About Radio Azadi
Radio Azadi is the most popular radio station in Afghanistan, broadcasting uncensored news and information in Dari and Pashto for 12 hours each day. Funded by the U.S. Congress, Radio Azadi was launched in 2002 in an effort to build a peaceful and democratic Afghanistan following the rule of the Taliban.