Afghanistan president threatens to quit

Afghanistan’s interim president Hamid Karzai is threatening to step down if provinces continue to resist handing over customs duties estimated at millions of dollars.

    Karzai to quit if no change soon

    At the moment the government receives about $80 million from the provinces, but the president says the figure should be in excess of $600 million.

    In a televised speech Monday, Karzai warned that if Afghanistan's revenue and administration did not improve within the next two or three months, he would recall the Loya Jirga - the traditional tribal council which elected him last year - and quit.

    "Every day the people of Afghanistan lose hope and trust in the government, every day new questions rise in their minds and these questions and hopelessness should change to hopes and success," he said.

    Difficult meeting ahead

    A dozen regional commanders of border provinces have been summoned to Kabul for a meeting on Tuesday.

    The interim president is likely to demand that provinces hand over all of their customs duty revenue to the central government, which he said was verging on insolvency.

    "Some weeks ago the ministry of finance reported that in the government coffers there isn't a single penny, while [some] provinces have hundreds of millions of dollars from customs," Karzai said.

    "The other ... provinces of Afghanistan are living in poverty, the central government does not have the money for the salary of the soldiers, police have not received their salaries."

    Herat's Ismael Khan gets more
    revenue than Karzai's government

    "Every single penny of that income belongs to the people of Afghanistan, and without any excuse, reason or delay should be given for the central budget."

    Big problem

    Afghanistan's working budget for the 2003-2004 financial year is 550 million dollars, of which the international community will supply 350 million dollars, leaving the country to find the shortfall.

    The governors of Herat and  Kandahar provinces allegedly earn millions of dollars from customs duty on trade with neighbouring Iran and Pakistan respectively, with little of the money being handed over.
    Karzai has been trying to extend the authority of the central government to the provinces, where regional commanders continue to hold sway.

    According to Dr Roashan, Director of the Insitute for Afghan Studies, by bringing regional incomes to Kabul, “the president hopes to give real economic power to the national government and limit the strength of individual regional commanders."


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