KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai has a pointed warning for neighboring nations: Stop meddling in Afghan affairs, or risk seeing chaos spread from a destabilized Afghanistan across the region.
Speaking sharply during an interview with The Associated Press, Karzai said Afghans have had enough of conflict and foreign interference — the war against occupying Soviet troops in the 1980s, a civil war in the '90s, the insurgency following the U.S.-led campaign that toppled the Taliban and chased out al-Qaida training camps after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
He promised that further interference in his homeland will not go unchallenged and warned that Iran, Pakistan and others are not fooling anyone.
"We know (interference) is going on. We know that money is being brought into Afghanistan. It will not have the impact that they want it to have — not for Afghanistan and not for themselves — so they had better stop," Karzai said.
"If they don't stop, the consequences will be exactly what I said earlier. The consequences will be that this region will suffer with us, equally, as we suffer. In the past we suffered alone. This time everybody will suffer with us."
Karzai said he felt a sense of contentment with the progress his country has made since the collapse of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001. But he spoke with concern about outside attempts to manipulate Afghanistan's ethnic and religious groups and the dangers of encouraging discord in tumultuous south-central Asia.
"Any effort to divide Afghanistan ethnically or weaken it will create exactly the same things in the neighboring countries. All the countries in this neighborhood have the same ethnic groups that we have, so they should know that it is a different ball game this time," he said.
"We are bloody determined. It is not going to be Pakistan playing the Pashtun, non-Pashtun game in Afghanistan. It is not going to be Iran playing this or that game or any other country. We can play the same game with a lot more historical power, with a lot more power in our history than others can. They should know that very well."
Reflecting on Afghanistan's recent violence, and the manipulations of its neighbors, the president said his people are stronger now and know better how to face up to foreign interference.
"It won't work this time. Afghanistan has an ownership. I told you we will not be refugees again. We own this country. Afghanistan has a voice now," Karzai said.
"The past is gone. We were unaware: The Soviets came, invaded us and we went out of Afghanistan to defend our country. We defended our country and that was right, but we made a mistake by leaving our country. It was one of the biggest mistakes we made, leaving the country."
Talking without aides at his side, sitting alone at a long, heavy table in a cavernous room at the presidential palace, Karzai was passionate about Afghanistan's future and his determination to protect his country.
"The United States, Pakistan, Iran and everybody should know that this time Afghans will not become refugees. I would be one of those Afghans who would not become a refugee again," he said.
"It has to be very, very clear. That is why I am talking so clear. This is my conscience speaking, the conscience of an Afghan person."