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Hamid Karzai: Promoting defections, unity

Karzai has tried to rally Pashtun tribes in the south against the Taliban.  

SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- After a flurry of military triumphs by opposition forces in northern Afghanistan, a rapidly increasing number of predominantly Pashtun tribes have begun rising up against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan in recent days.

Opposition leader Hamid Karzai has been on the forefront of this battle for weeks, trying to strengthen anti-Taliban sentiment in the south and lure Taliban forces to switch sides. He talked with CNN anchor Bill Hemmer on Thursday about recent military development as well as the political obstacles that still remain in Afghanistan.

KARZAI: Just now, I received news from my friends and colleagues that the town of Tarin Kowt -- the capital of Oruzgan province, which is the central province in Afghanistan -- fell to the people about two days ago.

Because we have no communication they could not reach me. They walked for hours and hours and ... just now I got a notice. The district surrounding Tarin Kowt has also fallen to a popular uprising.

CNN: Just for our viewers' reference, where are these areas located relative to Kandahar?

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KARZAI: These are immediately to the north of Kandahar province.

CNN: And how significant is that at this point?

KARZAI: This is very, very significant -- it's in the Afghan heartland and one of the major provinces of the southwestern region.

CNN: From a political standpoint, sir -- and your name has certainly been mentioned in many circles as a potential leader of Afghanistan -- where does that situation stand politically in Kabul? And ultimately what would be agreed upon if you are going to put all these groups together and move forward with a broad-based, coalition government?

KARZAI: I have been in contact with certain Taliban leaders. I have assured them there will be full amnesty and protection to them and their people. We have also offered full amnesty to Taliban soldiers. That is actually in practice right now in many parts of southwestern Afghanistan.

With regards to Kabul, I believe that any power arrangement has to include the direct participation of representatives of all Afghan people. That is the only way. In other words, only the self-determination of the Afghan people can create a government.

CNN: But this is a massively complicated procedure here. What will work in your estimation?

KARZAI: In my opinion, we need to set up a meeting of a grand assembly of Afghans, which we call the loya girga. The point now is to make a strong portion of the country accessible for that (by toppling Taliban forces). After that, we must engage in consultations throughout Afghanistan as to how soon and where we should convene a loya girga.

CNN: In your previous answer, you mentioned giving some sort of protection or amnesty to Taliban members. How many have you come in contact with and what sort of arrangement have you worked out with them?

KARZAI: I've come in contact with quite a few Taliban. I cannot really say the number. It may be 10, 20, or it may be more than that, between high-ranking and middle-ranking officials. There are various categories there.

CNN: What are you hearing on the ground inside the city of Kandahar? Will that fall soon or would the Taliban stay and fight?

KARZAI: The only thing I heard this afternoon, from a source that spoke to me by telephone, is that things in Kandahar were not normal. There was turmoil in the city, but I was busy in Oruzgan province and could not get any more info than that from Kandahar.

CNN: Do you know about Northern Alliance troops moving into that region, in and around Kandahar?

KARZAI: No, the United Front troops are all the way back in Kabul. They will not move into this region at all.


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