Transcript: Interview With Hamid Karzai


Interview With Afghan President Hamid Karzai

May 22, 2005

HOST BRIAN WILSON: Washington is looking forward to your visit. The word is that you want to ask him for certain things regarding the U.S. control over troops in Afghanistan. Is that accurate, and what do you want?

AFGHAN PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: Well, that's not reported correctly. First of all, we in Afghanistan are very grateful for what the United States has done for us in the past three or four years. It's been in that partnership that Afghanistan has been liberated and building and moving towards a better future. What I asked for was the prisoners of Afghanistan to come back to Afghan prisons from Guantanamo and other places where they are in U.S. detention.

What I have asked for is that since the nature of this struggle against terrorism has changed, since there is a stronger ownership of the Afghan government to the Afghan people now, the operations that are done in villages and where homes are concerned, where villages are concerned, should be done in consultation with the Afghan government and not without the prior knowledge of the Afghan government. That's it.

But I am here to ask tomorrow President Bush for a longer-term relationship with Afghanistan, for a strategic partnership with Afghanistan that will involve the economic support, military support and security assistance.

WILSON: But you want consultations before military operations take part in some parts of Afghanistan, is that correct?

KARZAI: Yes, absolutely, especially where homes are concerned, where people are concerned, where knocking on people's doors are concerned, definitely, yes.

WILSON: One of the big concerns in this country about what is going on in Afghanistan is the amount of opium that is still being produced there. There are over a half-million acres of poppies grown in Afghanistan in the year 2004, producing about 5,000 metric tons of opium. Afghanistan remains the largest opium producer in the whole world. What are you doing to solve this problem?

KARZAI: Surveys show that there will be considerable poppy reduction in Afghanistan this year. I was checking a U.N. document yesterday that showed decrease in provinces where there was traditionally lots of poppy grown and there are similar decreases in other parts of the country as well.

So the program that we have launched, the push that we have against poppies will this year give us much lesser poppies. Let's hope that we will build on this and next year poppies will be even lesser than this year, and the year after even less than that, and that eventually in five to six years, we completely eradicate poppies. But that will require very serious, very systematic effort also from the international community to provide alternative livelihood, to provide a proper assessment and action against the poppies.

WILSON: Is it causing a problem for you because on one hand, you have the United States who is saying 'Get rid of the opium, get rid of the poppies,' but on the other hand you have a whole group of people in your country, farmers, who are being denied a livelihood?

KARZAI: Well, the reduction of poppies is actually because the Afghan people refrained themselves. A little has been eradicated by force. The rest is people refraining themselves from growing the poppies. So that's a tremendous sign; that's a great sign of hope. And if you go forward with proper alternative livelihoods, people will no longer grow poppies.

Look, let me give you an example. People in Afghanistan in the past 30 years destroyed their pomegranate orchards, their vineyards to replace them with poppies. Imagine the desperation. Now that the country is going back towards stability, prosperity, there is no need for poppies. People will go to alternative livelihoods if they are given an opportunity, which they have shown this year.

WILSON: I'd like to ask you about that Newsweek article that regarded the defiling of the Koran by U.S. soldiers, an article that turned out to be completely unsubstantiated. How much problem did that cause for you in your country?

KARZAI: Well, the Afghan people first did not understand the article, the way it was reported to everybody. And then, the incident, some of them were really peaceful demonstrations, which is all of [our] right to do, and to get angry about a matter that is so important as a religion to all of us.

But some of the incidents, the looting of buildings, the burning of buildings that was not done by those people who were protesting against the Newsweek article, it was done by gangs who were against Afghanistan, who were against the strategic policy for America, who were against peace with Afghanistan, who were against parliamentary elections, who are the guys who don't want our country to be good, to be on its own feet.

But with regard to the Newsweek article, the article itself, it was a tragic mistake. It was really neglecting the basics of propriety and journalism there. How can you put an article so serious, a matter so serious in a gossip column and then let it be read by people? Unfortunate.

WILSON: Has the word gotten back to the people of Afghanistan that this article was retracted, that it was unsubstantiated?

KARZAI: It did get back, the Afghan clergy, the Afghan [inaudible] councils, the elders spoke and informed the people of what was going on. There was good sense, basically the people now understand, yes.

WILSON: Where is Usama bin Laden in your mind? Many people in this country say that if they had to make a guess, they say he is along the Afghanistan border with Pakistan. What do you think?

KARZAI: I don't know where he is. I can say that he is not in Afghanistan and if he were in Afghanistan, we would catch him. As to where he exactly is, it is very difficult to say. And I won't make a guess.

WILSON: So you don't have any good sense.

KARZAI: I can't make a guess.

WILSON: Are you surprised ... that he has not been captured?

KARZAI: No, I am not surprised. It's quite easy in that part of the world for one man to hide with a few other people around villages and valleys. That's what I did when I was fighting against the Taliban. They couldn't catch me and I was right there in the middle of them.

WILSON: One final question. You have a very difficult kind of line to walk in that you want to embrace your relationship with the United States, yet at the same time you don't want to be perceived in your own country as a puppet of the United States. How do you walk that line?

KARZAI: No Afghan is a puppet, you know. Afghans are very independent people. They understand. The Afghan people are, are perhaps among the most freedom-lovers of all the people in the world, and but for the Afghan people, the relationship with the United States is understood in a different context -- in the context of the future stability of Afghanistan, future well-being of the Afghan people and the prevention of intervention from outside into Afghanistan. It's a well-thought-out thing on our part.

And I consider the Afghan people on this, some 10, 15 years ago, over 1,050 people came and discussed the issue of partnering with America. The absolute majority, over 80-85 percent of the people, agreed that that's what we need. That's what we are going to ask President Bush tomorrow, and I hope he will make us a deal on that.

WILSON: And if you have to walk away with just one thing from your talks with President Bush, what is the thing that you want most?

KARZAI: Partnership.