October Issue 2005
Interview: Hamid Karzai
“We need to focus on the sources from where terrorism is originating”
– Hamid Karzai
Visiting Kabul prior to and during the first parliamentary elections, held after several painful decades of war and civil strife, was a unique experience. The mood of the people in the main cities was upbeat — gone was the depression of the past — they sounded hopeful about Afghanistan’s future. The dusty Kabul road seemed to have regained its former hustle and bustle that was lost in the gunfires of the Soviet invasion. The roundabouts and the service roads looked greener.
September 18, election day… President Hamid Karzai appeared visibly happy. “It’s an auspicious day,” he said to me. “The Afghans were able to exercise their right to choose their representatives to the parliament.” The American guards with their sniffer dogs, at the palace where I met him, had vanished into thin air. The President informed me that all his guards were Afghans now and that they were perfectly capable of performing many of the tasks that were earlier carried out by coalition forces.
Over lunch, with his main advisers and bodyguards at his place in central Kabul, the President told me that the threats issued by the Taliban to deter people from participating in the elections did not materialise. However, he did confess that people in Kabul had voted in lesser numbers than they did during the presidential elections held last year. Incidentally, outside the capital, the turnout was much higher.
Q: Mr President, what kind of feedback have you received from the various provinces regarding the election turnout so far?
A: The Afghan people have responded very positively to the elections. So far I have spoken to people in around nineteen to twenty provinces where the elections have proceeded very smoothly. In fact, in those provinces where terrorism has posed a greater threat and which have witnessed more operations, the turnout of the people has been higher, which is not only very interesting but also heartening.
Q: Would you comment on the security situation? Have people felt secure enough to go out and vote without fear of any reprisal from the Taliban or its allies?
A: If they were worried about the Taliban attacks, they would not have come out of their homes. The fact that they are voting everywhere — in the country, in the villages and in the districts — shows the determination of the Afghan people to have a government of their own, a parliament of their own — and a country that is prosperous and is governed by the rule of law.
Q: Many people view this election as a turning point in Afghanistan’s history. What kind of politics can one hope to see in the Afghanistan of the future?
A: One hopes to return to the life of a normal nation, one which enjoys democratic politics, freedom of expression, the freedom to take the government to task for not performing well, and demanding an honest, clean and effective government and a parliament that will be good for the Afghan people, good [for purposes of] legislation, and for moving this country forward. In the past few years, the Afghan people have demonstrated that they are as, or even more, desirous as any other nation of a good, healthy life subject to the rule of law. They have worked for it, and they’ve achieved whatever they enjoy today [with the assistance of the] international community.
Q: Some warlords and former commanders are agitating against the elections? Will those who lose seek revenge?
A: Well, if they are voted in by the Afghan people to become members of Parliament or the Provisional Council, then they will be representing the Afghan people. If they lose, it will be the verdict of the Afghan people and they should accept it. All of us should learn to accept both victory and defeat.
Q: What are the main challenges facing the incoming parliament?What are the main challenges facing the incoming parliament?
A: Well, it will face a lot of challenges. The challenge of reconstruction, the challenge of trying to speed up the process of introducing laws for regulating democratic life in this country, and the conduct of the government in order to take Afghanistan to a higher degree of self-sustainability and self-sufficiency. [We need to build] a country with a flourishing economy, a country where the life of the people, both its men and women who have suffered so much in the past thirty years, will be more prosperous — and the sooner, the better.
Q: Of late, you have been openly critical of some of the tactics being used by the coalition forces in dealing with the Afghani people. For example, the raids on houses and continuing aerial bombardment. How have the coalition forces responded to this criticism?
A: We have now moved on to a different stage in the war against terrorism. Afghanistan has proven that its people are an integral part of the international community’s war against terrorism. They were at the forefront of this war against terrorism. In fact, Afghanistan was actually being ruled by the use of terror. We, the Afghan people, needed the help of the international community to rid ourselves of this terrorism; we could not have done it on our own. The international community came to our rescue after the September 11 bombings, and we are very happy about it. Especially the United States, which was at the forefront of the international community’s efforts.
Now, we are at a different stage of this fight against terrorism. Consequently there is less and less need for aerial bombing and for conducting searches of Afghan homes. We have been talking with the U.S. and other coalition partners and impressing upon them that there is no need for aerial bombing, it has to stop; and also that the searching of Afghan homes is no longer necessary. Afghanistan is witnessing stability and peace and and acquiring confidence as a nation.
Now we need to concentrate on the sources from where the terrorism is originating, where it is being nurtured, and where the terrorists are being trained. That is where we should focus, not on Afghan homes. That has to stop.
Q: To what extent are the Afghan military and police forces, capable of implementing the rule of law? Given the inadequate equipment and facilities at their disposal, do you believe that they will be able to control the country’s unruly regions?
A:Much of the country is now under the rule of law. The reach of the government is everywhere. Right now our police and our army have been working alongside coalition forces all over Afghanistan — and not just during the elections. However, for a government that is barely three years old and a nation that has seen 30 years of war, destruction and the massive loss of life, probably we don’t have a very efficient administration as compared to other countries, such as Egypt or Pakistan, or even Lebanon and Iraq. We need more time in order to deliver better service.
Q: How do you explain the number of attacks by the Taliban, despite the presence of coalition forces, and the large numbers of civilians that were killed or wounded?
A: It’s terrorism [pure and simple]. They killed innocent people the day before yesterday; they burnt a mosque in south-east Afghanistan two days ago; they burnt a school. They are attacking the Afghan people, they don’t dare to come and attack the security forces. They attack mullahs, women, students, doctors. It’s murder. It’s kufr.
Q: How long will it take the government to weed out terrorist elements within the country. Would you say that they are still crossing the border?
A: It is not a matter [of concern] for the Afghan government alone. It’s a question that concerns the entire region and the international community. The attacks that are taking place in Afghanistan are originating from terrorist bases.
Q: Located in Pakistan, Mr. President?
A: I wouldn’t say that they are coming from terrorist bases elsewhere, not Afghanistan. But wherever these terrorist bases are, the international community, the region and the neighbours have to work together to locate them. It is in our interest and it’s in everybody else’s interest. Just to give you an example — when the Taliban were ruling this country, and were very close to Pakistan, which had propped them up and supported them strongly, exports from Pakistan to Afghanistan were worth around $26 million. Today, Pakistan sends goods worth $1.2 billion to Afghanistan. The difference is visible to all our neighbours. The same goes for Iran, and others. So peace and stability in Afghanistan is in the interest of all our neighbours. Therefore, all of us in the region and the international community need to work together to weed out terrorism from its source.
Q: Pakistani officials maintain that they have deployed more than 80,000 soldiers around the border between the two countries. What else do you expect from the Pakistan government to curb the Taliban from crossing the border?
A: Checking the border is one thing, plugging the source where the training is taking place, where the equipment is being provided, where the money is being pumped, is a different thing. I think we need to concentrate on both — on securing the border as well as on removing the bases where the terrorists are trained.
Q: Have you, at any stage, passed on information to the Pakistani authorities regarding the whereabouts of certain Taliban elements within Pakistan?
A: We are in close and regular contact with our brothers in Pakistan on all such issues.
Q: Do you think the proposed move by President Musharraf, to build a fence around the border will prove effective in checking unfiltration?
A: With all due respect, I don’t think it’s time to be building walls or fences between people. Rather, we should remove the walls and facilitate movement between people. The wall our brothers in Pakistan are proposing, will actually be dividing brother from brother, sister from sister, father from son; the same people, the same tribes live on both sides of our borders.
It’s not a practical idea and it would actually mean separating people of the same tribe rather than effectively fighting terrorism. If you create a wall in-between, terrorists may well build a tunnel and cross over. They will find ways to carry out their terrorist activities.
Q: Mr. President, how would you evaluate the war against terrorism after four years?
A: It has been very successful in eradicating terrorism in Afghanistan. Terrorism reigned supreme in Afghanistan, but the Afghan people, with the help of the international community, removed it in less than a year.
Afghanistan is now safe from terrorism, there are no terrorist bases here. Therefore, we need to go in search of places where terrorists are trained, where they are propped up, and provided money and resources. We should go and stop them in their tracks.
Q: The world believes that Osama bin Laden forms the nerve centre of this terrorrist network. President Musharraf, in a recent interview, stated that bin Laden still lives in Afghanistan.
A: I don’t know where he is, I don’t know if he’s here or somewhere else; I have no idea. If I make a statement off the top of my head, I know I’ll be proved wrong. Wherever he is, I hope we can catch him some day, because Osama has been the cause of so many thousands of innocent deaths in Afghanistan — of men, women, children — and the destruction of mosques and the burning of the Quran. He has to answer for all the crimes he has committed against the Afghan people.
Q: Several times in the past, you have called upon those members of the Taliban, who were not involved in any criminal activity, to return to work and live alongside their fellow countrymen and women. What response have you received so far?
A: We’ve had a very positive response. A lot of people have returned, and some of them are even running for the elections to parliament. These include some very senior figures as well. Afghanistan is a country of all [shades of] Afghans. The Taliban are from Afghanistan, they belong to this soil. Those who are not part of the terrorist network, those who haven’t committed crimes against the Afghan nation at the behest of foreign forces are most welcome in Afghanistan. This is their land, this is their home, and they can come and live here and enjoy the same rights as any other Afghan national.
Q: Recently, Pakistan has opened up diplomatic channels with Israel through a meeting attended by their respective foreign ministers. What would it take for Afghanistan to establish diplomatic ties with Israel?
A: Several Muslim countries are talking to Israel. Among them are many countries of the Arab world. We have already seen the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip, which is a good beginning and we support it. We would like our Palestinian brothers to have a state of their own, a country they can call their own. That would be a great facilitator in establishing ties with Israel. As a nation, we would like to have relations with Israel as well, but a Palestinian state is something we would like to see first.
Q: Are you content with Afghanistan’s relations with other Muslim and Arab states, and how do you view their contribution towards securing an independent Afghanistan?
A: We consider our Arab brothers as being the closest to us in terms of religion, in terms of culture. I have visited Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Qatar a number of times and I have also visited Jordan. The Afghan people hope that our brothers in the Arab world will assist us even more.
Right now, it is the non-Muslim world that has contributed significantly. From among the Muslim countries, Pakistan and Iran have been a big help in terms of financial resources. We have not received much attention or resources from the Arab countries. We hope that our brothers and sisters in the Arab world will recognise the needs of Afghanistan, which is among the poorest countries in the Muslim world and which has suffered the most, and yet shown tremendous heroism in the defeat of the Soviet Union.
Q: You have called for a single leadership behind the US-led NATO force in Afghanistan?
A: Of course, it has to be under one command; several commands will confuse matters. There has to be a unified command, otherwise it will be a difficult operation and a difficult relationship.