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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Hamid Karzai Reacts to President Obama's Afghan Strategy

Aired December 7, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:00]

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, our exclusive interview with Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. It's the first time he's talked to television since President Obama's dramatic announcement. So does Karzai think that the new U.S. plan will finish the war?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

Last week saw President Obama finally unveil his decision on Afghanistan, 30,000 new troops to try to finish the job there, but also an 18-month deadline for them to accomplish ambitious goals.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition, a civilian surge that reinforces positive action, and an effective partnership with Pakistan.

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AMANPOUR: But is the U.S. sending mixed messages? Already, Britain, its closest ally and fighting partner, says that it cannot back the Obama timeline, even as it does pledge more troops to contribute to NATO's promise of 7,000 new forces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: When people ask me, when will the mission in Afghanistan end, then I have a very clear answer: Our mission in Afghanistan will end when the Afghans are capable to secure, to defend, and to run their own country themselves.

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AMANPOUR: So we've heard many voices around the region and here in the United States talking about what's best for Afghanistan, but we haven't yet heard from the Afghan president himself. He, too, is being asked to double his commitment.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: President Hamid Karzai joins us now from his palace in Kabul.

Welcome to the program, Mr. President.

HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: Good to talk to you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: President Karzai, do you think that the U.S. surge will finish the job in your country?

KARZAI: Well, the -- the most important element in the new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan is concentration on protecting the population, and doubling economic assistance to Afghanistan, and also concentrating on the regional aspect of the problem.

So as far as Afghanistan is concerned, Afghanistan welcomes this new strategy, and Afghanistan will do all it can to be a good partner in it.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that -- although the president has concentrated on defeating Al Qaida and preventing it to come back, they're not saying they want to defeat the Taliban. Do you think the Taliban needs to be defeated?

KARZAI: Those Taliban who are part of Al Qaida, who are part of the terrorist networks, who are organized from outside against Afghanistan, in association with terrorist networks, of course they need to be defeated with those terrorist networks.

But the thousands of Taliban, the majority of them who have no such ideological linkage with the terrorist networks, they are part of our people. They must be reintegrated into the Afghan society.

AMANPOUR: Do you have a plan to do that?

KARZAI: We have a plan to do that. We have actually been working on a -- on a -- on a peace process for a number of years now. What we lacked for those years was a clear understanding or support from our partners.

Now that the new strategy of the United States and our other allies is talking of reintegration and of bringing those Taliban back who are not part of Al Qaida, this will become possible, but it has to have some added elements, that is full trust and cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, backed by the U.S., and also the -- the support and inclusion in the process of Saudi Arabia for this purpose, and on a larger picture, definitely Turkey and China and the neighbors of Afghanistan, as well.

AMANPOUR: Do you plan to open negotiations with Mullah Omar, who has already said that there's no -- no way that they're going to negotiate with your government?

KARZAI: Well, I have -- I have expressed my -- my stand on that for the -- in the past several years many, many times. I do see an urgent need for a negotiated approach. As well as we try to struggle against terrorism, we must also talk and find peaceful ways.

I've offered Mullah Omar a number of times to come forward and stop violence and participate in peace-building and reconstruction of Afghanistan.

[15:05:00]

This -- the part that relates to Mullah Omar is also something that has to be understood and backed by the international community, because of the U.N. sanctions on them, and other relevant issues.

So, yes, as an Afghan, I would very much want to negotiate with him, provided he renounces violence, provided all the connections to -- to the Al Qaida and to terrorist networks are -- are cut off and denounced and renounced, and also provided, most importantly, that the United States and our other allies back us in this and see the need for it.

AMANPOUR: Because as yet...

KARZAI: Alone, we can't do it.

AMANPOUR: As yet, they have not backed you on that. Is that correct?

KARZAI: Our partners, no.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let me ask you about the exit strategy. Eighteen months from now for the surge troops to start coming back, do you agree with that?

KARZAI: I don't set -- as the Afghan president -- dates or deadlines for the presence or exit of allied forces and NATO forces in Afghanistan. We are looking towards objectives that we have and the achievements of those objectives.

And with the achievement of those objectives, probably we can then think of giving the mantle to the Afghans themselves. But we will try our best as the Afghan people to do it the soonest possible. But the international community must have also the patience with us and the realization of the realities in Afghanistan. If it takes longer, then they must be with us.

AMANPOUR: Because you, yourself, have said, even in your inauguration address, that it would take some five years to be able to hand over security to the Afghan forces.

KARZAI: We want to have in Afghanistan in another two years the ability to lead operations and provide security for the Afghan people in many parts of the country, especially in parts of the country where we have trouble fighting and -- and terrorism and trying to bring violence down.

By the end of five years' term of -- of the current government, we plan to lead operations for the security of the Afghan people in all of Afghanistan, in the whole country. That is our objective.

Now, we as the Afghans must also try our very, very best to reach that goal, and we hope that our allies will back us reach that goal.

AMANPOUR: What kind of a message do you think it sends, for instance, to the Taliban that there is an exit date, a timeline for transition?

KARZAI: My understanding is that the dateline or deadline, whatever word we use there, of 18 months is not an exit announcement, that this is the reduction of the forces that are arriving, but not the exit of all the forces.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Karzai, you said that you're ready to meet your part now that President Obama has promised 30,000 more troops. We will discuss that after a short break.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: President Karzai needs to appoint good ministers, good governors, governors and ministers that we can work with and that can really deliver for their people. And if that doesn't happen, then the number of combat troops isn't going to make any difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:10:20]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy so that the government can take advantage of improved security. This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: That was President Obama in his speech at West Point last Tuesday, sending a signal that the U.S. expects change from the Afghan government, as well.

Joining us again, Afghan President Hamid Karzai from Kabul.

So, Mr. President, you just heard right there, no more free rides, no more blank checks. Do you accept that there needs to be change from you to avoid a calamity?

KARZAI: Afghanistan is our country. Nobody will be hurt more than the Afghan people if it doesn't work right.

And with regard to a blank check, ma'am, we never had a blank check in Afghanistan. I remember occasions in the past seven years where I've asked for only $25 million to provide for the security of the Afghan community leaders, religious leaders, and after negotiating for months, we didn't get it.

So we are not used to a blank check, and we are not expecting one, but we welcome any cooperation that comes from our allies towards the stability and progress and well-being of the Afghan people.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Karzai, the United States, for instance, is saying that there must be a crackdown on corruption, a really serious crackdown on corruption. For instance, they have a list of government ministers and cabinet ministers who could be put into office. Are you going to change cabinet ministers, government ministers who are considered to have been corrupt?

KARZAI: Absolutely. We have done that in the past; we will do it again. If and when at any time there is an occasion where we need to act on corruption with ministers, with officials, with anybody, we will do that...

AMANPOUR: Will you be firing people?

KARZAI: ... for Afghanistan. I have fired people, and I will be firing people, yes.

AMANPOUR: And let me ask you this: There are very clear benchmarks. For instance, there are hundreds of millions of dollars, we're told, that have simply been taken, customs revenue at the Kabul airport alone, some $12 million of customs revenue been taken from one of the provinces, Nangarhar. How are you going to and will you crack down on that kind of corruption?

KARZAI: We still have immense problems in the collection of -- of -- of revenues all around the country. This is an ongoing effort, and we will continue to -- to improve upon it, not only on -- on how we collect revenues, but on -- where best to collect revenues, the procedures, the laws. There's a continuous effort to improving on that. And we will do all that we can to -- to add the best practice to it.

AMANPOUR: The U.S. has said that, if you don't, they will go around you. Let me play this sound bite from President Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If President Karzai is unable or unwilling to make changes in corruption or governance, that we will identify people at a sub-cabinet level, at a district level that can implement the types of services and basic governance without corruption that Afghans need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: What do you think about that?

KARZAI: Well, Afghanistan is a sovereign country. It has a sovereign government. It's not an occupied country. No foreign power can go beyond the legitimate presence in Afghanistan to undermine the Afghan government and to work directly with those that they wish to work. This has to be forgotten, and this has to be taken very seriously.

AMANPOUR: Do you think, for instance, you will turn against then some members of your own kin, your own clans, your own -- your own officials who've helped you, for instance, even get elected, but some of whom are accused -- and there is evidence -- of great corruption and fraud?

KARZAI: If there is evidence, if there is proof, of course, that is my job. If I don't do that, I won't be serving the Afghan people, and then I don't deserve to be the president of this country.

[15:15:00]

AMANPOUR: Do you accept that one of the main problems in Afghanistan right now and the resurgence of the insurgency and the disappointment from the Afghan people is because of this rampant, endemic corruption?

KARZAI: No. The issue of corruption has been politically overplayed by some of our partners in the international community. It is not the way they're talking about. And if we will have a conference a few days from now on the issue of corruption, there you will -- you will come to know the details of -- of what the problems are in Afghanistan, and also the details of what the problems are coming from the -- the -- the -- from outside of Afghanistan to us in the way of corruption. We will address all of those questions that are in Afghanistan that are our problems. It is our responsibility, and we must do it.

But I also hope that our partners will also address problems that they bring to us that cause corruption, that cause bad governance, that cause parallel governance, that cause insecurity. So I mentioned earlier in my - - in my remarks that we must work together in order for us to reach our objectives, and that means addressing all these questions.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you one final question on this. What precisely do you plan to do, beyond press conferences and other conferences, what absolutely do you plan to do to root out corruption in the cabinet, in elsewhere?

KARZAI: Improving the rule of law, further improving the judiciary, the power to investigate, certain laws, procedures that take people's time, that make people to 25, 30 different offices in order to get a license, to make administration simpler, to make it transparent so people can have delivery of services sooner and cheaper, and without the possibility of corruption.

There's a long list of things that we have in mind. There's a long list that we've already done. There's a longer list waiting for us to accomplish.

AMANPOUR: Including firing corrupt officials?

KARZAI: Which we have done. We -- I almost every day sign instructions of -- of -- of suspension, of dismissal, of reappointments. There is an ongoing process. Almost -- almost once or twice a week, I receive from the judiciary, from the supreme court requests for dismissals, for suspensions on this account and from other government appointments. There are governors who have gone to prison. There are governors who are dismissed and are under investigation. A minister was dismissed right from -- from the middle of the cabinet. Others were dismissed.

A lot is happening that, unfortunately, is not noticed by the press in our allied countries. And we are also not really talking about it as much as we should.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Karzai will be right back. We'll ask President Karzai about bringing the Taliban in from the cold after a break.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe it is a much more complex picture, as most human situations are, and I believe that the way that our government interacted with President Karzai and his government over the last several years bred a lot of the confusion and the inadequacy that we are now having to contend with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:20:50]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE, AFGHANISTAN: Counterinsurgency starts, as you know, with protecting the people. Because at the end of the day, the people are what we are here for. We're here to respect the Afghan people, here to protect the Afghan people. We're here to enable the Afghan people to build their country. We are not going to nation-build. What we are going to do is allow a nation to nation-build.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: That was General Stanley McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan, speaking in Kandahar in the southern part of the country to NATO and Afghan troops after President Obama's announcement last week. And we are back again with President Karzai in Kabul.

Let me ask you something, Mr. Karzai, about the Pashtuns, the majority in the country. There is obviously thought, group-think, actually, that the Pashtuns are inherently opposed to any foreigners or -- or anything. Is that correct? And can they be brought onboard?

KARZAI: That is not correct. When -- after -- after September 11th, when the U.S. and other forces came to Afghanistan, primarily the U.S. came to Afghanistan, the Taliban were chased out within a month-and-a-half. And it was done all over Afghanistan; that includes the Pashtuns in Afghanistan.

I was in -- in central Afghanistan. There were only about 14 Americans there at that time in the whole of central Afghanistan. And wherever I came together with the community elders, the Taliban went and left the area.

That's not true. But the Pashtuns were -- were harassed. Their homes were raided. They were killed. There was no differentiation made between the terrorists, the bad guys, as I say, and the community. And that is part of the problem.

And that is why I've been saying for the past many years that the war on terror is not in the Afghan villages, that it is in the sanctuaries where they're trained, where they're financed, and that's why I supported General McChrystal's strategy, which primarily focused on protecting the population of the civilians. And if we don't do that, we will never succeed.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you again about the Taliban. We mentioned it earlier, but there is no real structure, no amnesty structure, and not everybody is onboard to bring those Taliban into the community and reintegrate them. What needs to be done to make that happen?

KARZAI: Exactly to let them know that this is their country, that they will not be hurt, that they will not be prosecuted, that they will not be persecuted for -- for -- for reasons beyond legitimate, that they have a future in this country, and that they're not part of Al Qaida and the terrorist networks. That possibility is there; this has to be backed by our allies.

AMANPOUR: And what do you think when both General McChrystal and President Obama say no nation-building?

KARZAI: Now, that is something that we have heard before, too. When you say civilian surge, that should be for a purpose, and that can only be nation-building, because a civilian surge can't be for any other purpose. When you say electricity, when you say power generation, when you say end corruption, when you say bring good governance, when you say the constitution, when you say elections, and then you accuse that election of fraud, that means nation-building.

AMANPOUR: And what do you say to this being the last real chance for Afghanistan to pull itself out of this mess that it's in right now, the last real chance for you to choose statesman over outcast, for yourself?

[15:25:00]

KARZAI: Well, I -- I like to serve the Afghan people by all means. And Afghanistan has been a nation for thousands of years. It's an old, old country with a great history, great culture. It's not a new country. It may be a poor country, but it's a magnificent country with deep roots in -- in the history of the world. It's going to be around. It's not the last chance for Afghanistan. Afghanistan will be there and will make it with or without the help of the rest of the world.

It's the rest of the world that needs to be in Afghanistan to bring them some security from the problems that they caused themselves by promoting Islamic radicalism, by promoting fanaticism and radicals for the past 30 years, first against the Soviets and then by abandoning Afghanistan. So -- so I think the -- the West needs to use this opportunity correctly to help Afghanistan and to help themselves.

AMANPOUR: And yourself? Can you use this opportunity to go down in history as a statesman or someone who's missed a chance?

KARZAI: Absolutely. By -- absolutely, by all means. Absolutely, by all the means possible.

AMANPOUR: As you know, the world will be watching.

KARZAI: By all means possible. I'll be very happy to go down in Afghan history as someone that contributed a little bit to the well-being of Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President, thank you very much, indeed.

KARZAI: I hope I can do that.

AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining us.

KARZAI: Thank you. Good to talk to you.

AMANPOUR: And for some historical context, compare what President Karzai thinks today and what he's just told us with an interview we had on his return to Afghanistan. He spoke about that just now to us, eight years ago, just after the ouster of the Taliban, when he was then the darling of the West.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARZAI: That the Afghans want dignity and honor, that the Afghans want the terrorists to go, that the Afghans want the terrorists to finish, to -- to be eliminated, that the Afghans do not want the Taliban, do not want the oppression.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: That 2001 interview is on our Web site, cnn.com/amanpour.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: And that is our report for now. Thanks for watching. Goodbye for now from New York.

END