By Mirwais Harooni
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday that presidential elections would be held on time in 2014 and he would step aside as mandated, denying speculation that the exit of foreign troops and security problems would delay the poll.
"The election will definitely happen. Go on and choose your own favorite candidate. My term, if prolonged by even a day, will be seen as illegitimate," Karzai told a press conference at his Kabul garden palace.
Karzai's increasingly unpopular government has for months been considering a change in election timing to avoid overlapping with the drawdown of U.S.-led NATO forces due to be completed by the end of 2014, when security is fully turned over to Afghan forces.
Last month a newly formed "Cooperation Council" of around 20 political parties warned that any delay to the presidential poll would lead to a serious crisis.
Opposition parties also say they are worried Karzai could act outside the constitution on poll timing, or try to install an ally as his successor to maintain an influence on power.
Karzai hit out at the foreign media for painting a "doomsday scenario" of Afghanistan after the NATO pullout, despite promises of ongoing international development aid and security assistance from Western military backers.
He said international media were conducting "psychological warfare" against the country's international reputation.
A German intelligence assessment of Afghanistan after 2014 seen by Germany's Spiegel newspaper this week said it could take upwards of 35,000 foreign troops to stabilize the country after the NATO exit, including elite troops and advisers.
The U.S. would provide most of those, the report said, while other NATO countries would be expected to provide around 10,000 soldiers. NATO forces in the country now number around 100,000.
The World Bank, in its most recent assessment of Afghanistan, said while the economy had expanded strongly in the past few years, bolstered by big aid flows helping real gross domestic product growth reach 8.4 percent in 2010/11, the NATO pullout was expected to cut that growth by about half.
Donors meeting in Tokyo in July promised civilian aid worth $16 billion over the next four years, but tied that to a much stronger effort by Karzai to combat corruption that has seen millions of aid dollars stolen.
KARZAI: BAD MOUTHING MUST STOP
The president also fired a broadside at cabinet members and other senior officials whose families live abroad and who he said were bad-mouthing Afghanistan.
"I have told many of them to bring their families back to Afghanistan because life and the environment is better and happier here," he said.
"Those whose families are abroad and fuelling publicity about instability, I will fire them immediately."
Karzai predicted the U.S.-led war on militancy would "not be successful from Afghanistan's view" because it was being fought in Afghan villages, rather than against insurgents sheltering in neighboring countries, an allusion to Pakistan.
He said Kabul would only sign a cross-border security pact with Islamabad aimed at ironing out security differences when Afghans can be certain that "suicide bombers, terrorists, weapons and cross-border shelling" would stop.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been strained in recent months over cross border shelling which Kabul blames on the Pakistan military. Islamabad says the shelling is in retaliation for anti-government attacks launched by insurgents operating from mountain havens on Afghan soil.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
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