Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, whose fragile government is propped up by more than 100,000 foreign troops, said Friday he does not need "the favour" of the international community.
The NATO and US have 113,000 troops fighting a Taliban-led insurgency trying to topple Karzai and destabilise the war-torn, impoverished and corrupt country.
With more than 500 international troop deaths in 2009, the war is becoming more deadly for foreign and Afghan troops alike as it drags into its ninth year since the Islamist regime was toppled in 2001.
Diplomats in Kabul say without the Western military presence, Karzai's government would soon collapse as the Taliban is spreading its footprint across the country and setting up shadow administrative and judicial systems.
"I have to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, I have to be legitimate and have the trust of the Afghan people if I am to be a good president," Karzai told Al-Jazeera Television, with Western forces set to rise this year to 150,000, and Kabul receiving billions of dollars a year in aid.
"The legitimacy of my government has to be given by the Afghan people.
"With the international community, I don't have to have their favour. They are here for a purpose, which is the fight on terror, and we are working with them for a purpose, which is the stability and safety of Afghanistan, so we have a common purpose."
Karzai began a second five-year term in November after being declared the winner of an August president poll that descended into a ballot-stuffing farce, with investigators finding that about a million votes for Karzai were fake.
In the interview, he said Afghanistan is "a good model" of democracy and has "done well" in education and economy -- despite the fact that millions of children do not go to school, extremists' intimidation limits girls' education, and the economy is based principally on the illegal poppy trade.
But, he said, "in terms of security we have failed".