In U.S., Ghani vows Afghan self-reliance

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani thanks House Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden after speaking Wednesday before a joint session of Congress.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani thanks House Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden after speaking Wednesday before a joint session of Congress.

WASHINGTON -- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani thanked Congress on Wednesday for billions of American tax dollars and vowed his war-torn country will be self-reliant within this decade.



Afghan President Ashraf Ghani acknowledges the applause Wednesday after a speech to a joint session of Congress in which he sought to mend frayed relations while thanking lawmakers for billions in aid. He vowed that his country will be self-reliant before the decade ends. “We’re not going to be the lazy Uncle Joe,” he said.

"We're not going to be the lazy Uncle Joe," he said.

In a speech to a joint meeting of Congress, Ghani moved to mend U.S.-Afghan relations that were frayed under former President Hamid Karzai. Lawmakers have been critical about the lengthy U.S. troop presence in America's longest war and wasteful spending in Afghanistan and were stung by Karzai's anti-American rhetoric.

Ghani humbly thanked Congress for the nearly $107 billion it has appropriated for Afghanistan so far. He paid homage to the 2,200 U.S. servicemen who lost their lives in the war and the thousands more who were wounded, and he thanked the U.S. aid workers who built schools and dug wells and cured the sick.

"At the end of the day, it is the ordinary Americans whose hard-earned taxes have over the years built the partnership that has led to our conversation today," he said to applause in the House chamber packed with hundreds of lawmakers, dignitaries and guests.

Ghani peppered his speech with anecdotes about the time he's spent in America, noting that he graduated from Columbia University in New York and was in his World Bank office in Washington when the first plane smashed into the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Ghani also admitted that decades of war have resulted in high levels of fraud and graft in Afghanistan and promised to eliminate corruption. He also voiced support for women's rights and said he would emphasize law and justice and focus on self-reliance and economic development.

"We don't want your charity. We have no more interest in perpetuating a childish dependence than you have in being saddled with a poor family member who lacks the energy and drive to get out and find a job," Ghani said.

That's a tall order for Afghanistan, where the national unity government that Ghani runs with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah has not yet seated a full Cabinet, and some of the country's 30-plus provinces are still run by acting governors.

The country recently had a $500 million budget shortfall, and domestic revenue missed targets by 26 percent, forcing the U.S. to step in in recent months to cover the fiscal gap.

More than a third of Afghans live below the poverty line, and the nation's vast mineral resources remain virtually untapped.

Ghani received a warm reception Wednesday from Republicans and Democrats.

Information for this article was contributed by Laurie Kellman of The Associated Press.

A Section on 03/26/2015

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