Nelson Mandela speaks at University of Maryland

The United States and Britain must conclude the war in Afghanistan as quickly as possible and commit themselves to a higher responsibility of encouraging peace, former South African President Nelson Mandela told a crowd of more than 10,000 people Wednesday night.

In his first visit to the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks, the 83-year-old political leader delivered the University of Maryland’s annual Sadat Lecture for Peace. Mandela spent 26 years in a South African jail, home to those who spoke out against apartheid and the suffocating political situation there in the 1960s.

He said the terrorist attacks reminded him that peace is a constant struggle.

“It starkly confronted us with some of the moral issues around the pursuit of peace in the world,” he said.

Mandela said there is now more than ever an urgency to stand against the “cold-blooded” and “perversely spectacular” actions of those who disregard human values. He said in the current struggle in Afghanistan, the United States must pay attention to innocent civilians.

“We must trust above all that in Afghanistan, and all over the world, democracy will be established and the interests and well being of the people will be supreme,” Mandela said.

He warned the United States and its allies not to be “arrogant” in pushing their forms of democracy on other countries.

“There are countries without the popular institutions we know, that provide in the social and economic needs of their citizens to a far greater extent than many of the popular democracies,” he said.

Mandela said a key aspect of fighting the war on terrorism is for strong nations to pay attention to the needs of developing countries and regions, places like Afghanistan where the vast majority of the population lives in squalor.

“While the divide between the rich and the poor. continues to grow, we allow fertile breeding ground for discontent and for extremism and terrorism,” he said. “Our fight for peace is also, and importantly, a war against poverty and deprivation.”

Mandela won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. He reminded the audience of the significance of the title of his acclaimed 1994 book “Long Walk to Freedom.”

“The long walk, the constant struggle for peace, continues. It never was an easy road, and is certainly not so now,” he said.

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