Afghan president: ‘We are not going to be the lazy Uncle Joe’

One of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s most well-received lines in his speech before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday was his pledge to have Afghanistan stand on its own two feet. “We are not going to be the lazy Uncle Joe,” he said to laughter and applause.

“Afghanistan can and will be an enduring success,” he said.

When outlining his country’s progress, Ghani described the government’s reconciliation talks with the Taliban, who “are not al-Qaida,” and the strength of the Afghan security forces. “Thanks to our army, we will negotiate with the Taliban from a position of strength, not weakness, so that the hard-fought gains in education, health, governance, media freedom and women’s rights are not lost.”

Ghani also won cheers from lawmakers when speaking about women’s rights and his work with local leaders to bring about a change in the public’s mindset on the issue. He mentioned the Skateistan program that aims to instill confidence in girls by teaching them new skills. He said girls he meets are now talking about becoming the first female president.

Ghani then addressed what he called the elephant in the room: security. “Afghans have shown that we know how to fight” to protect their land, he said. “But we must now show that we can also bring peace” to the region and within Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Ghani told PBS NewsHour co-anchor Gwen Ifill about his country’s security threats. “A new ecology of terror is forming because the weakening or collapse of the states in the Middle East is bringing new opportunities to strengthen these networks. We have to deal with this threat, not just by our Afghan action, but through coordinated regional action.

“And the beginning of awareness is taking place, but it’s important to understand that violence is changing its forms. It’s rapidly acquiring a new set of capabilities. And unless we grasp them, we understand them and then preempt them from forming and acting, we will be in a defensive position.”

Other areas of needed improvement, he said, include reducing poverty and providing jobs particularly for young people. “Youth are invested in the future, not in repeating the past. Jobs and engagement with the world are their first priority.”

Ghani is in Washington, D.C., to meet with President Barack Obama and other officials. U.S.-Afghan relations immediately improved after Afghan President Hamid Kharzi left office in September 2014 when his term ended.

Soon after taking office, Ghani signed a security agreement governing the presence of remaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a document Karzai had refused to sign.

President Obama has said he will keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2015, rather than cutting back to 5,500 by year’s end.

Ghani has formed a national unity government with his former political rival Abdullah Abdullah. He next travels to New York for a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon before heading back to Afghanistan.

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