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"As I look at problems down the line, or you look at 2014 or post-2014, the problem with safe havens looms pretty large," he added.
On Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the Taliban to relinquish their weapons and said the group and its leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, should join the political process. The Taliban says it is not interested in engaging with the government, but Karzai has said that the government has had discussions with Taliban figures.
"Mullah Mohammad Omar can come to any part of Afghanistan he wants to. He can open political office for himself but he should drop the gun," Karzai said at a nationally televised news conference held at the presidential palace.
The foreign troop withdrawal by the end of 2014 coincides with the end of Karzai’s second and final term as president.
Some political analysts have speculated that Karzai is trying to figure out a way to stay in power — perhaps in the way that Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev traded roles as president and prime minister in Russia.
Crocker said he didn’t think so.
"He has been as clear as any person can possibly be in public and private and repeatedly has said he has no intention of hanging on, and I believe him," Crocker said, adding that Karzai, instead, was thinking about his successor.
Karzai doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, he said. Musharraf lives in self-exile outside his homeland because if he returns, he could face arrest in connection with the killing of an ex-prime minister in 2007.
Karzai "needs to be confident that whoever succeeds him is not going to trump up some capital charges and have him tried, imprisoned or worse," Crocker said. The ambassador did not elaborate on what offenses a successor might allege against Karzai after he leaves office.
Crocker stressed the importance of having a fair election following the fraud-marred presidential vote in 2009.
Asked what would stop neighboring Iran, for instance, from bankrolling a candidate to buy influence in the next Afghanistan administration, Crocker said that’s exactly the sort of thing Iran allegedly did, unsuccessfully, during last year’s loya jirga, or national meeting of Afghan elders.
The elders were asked to reach a consensus about the strategic partnership agreement Afghanistan was then still negotiating with the United States.
Crocker stopped short of accusing Iran of paying loya jirga delegates to vote against the pact, but said: "We heard that money was being lavishly distributed to delegates who pocketed it and voted the way they would have voted in the first place."
"It was said so often by so many different people that I think there was some truth to it."
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