November 11, 2011 -
NDTV Correspondent: This is your first interview since the Istanbul Conference. A lot has been said about the outcome not being satisfactory. The Declaration contains many issues that are soft in nature and do not address the key issue of security concerns. Are you satisfied with the Istanbul Declaration?
President Karzai: The Istanbul Declaration has brought into action a process, I hope, and it is something we are satisfied with. Of course, the initial understanding was that there would be an undertaking by all countries in the near region. But the consensus was on a process, so that's good enough.
NDTV: You are saying that that is good enough for now. But again, it doesn't address some of the key security concerns. We are seeing statements coming out of Washington to bring the Haqqani network on to the negotiating table. Are you comfortable with that?
President Karzai: We preferably want a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. It is what the Afghan people desire and it has been the reason for the Afghan people's peace process that was led by the late President Rabbani, who was assassinated by a suicide bomber in our quest for peace. So if there is any chance of peace, that can happen through dialogue or understanding, that's a preferable choice for the Afghan people.
NDTV: How significantly has President Rabbani's assassination impacted the dialogue process with the Taliban?
President Karzai: Very seriously. In our desire for peace, we have been very reckless in receiving and meeting with whoever came in the name of the Taliban. I have done the same thing. President Rabbani did the same thing. The man that came, who turned out to be a suicide bomber, did so in the guise of a messenger for peace. He turned out to be not that but a suicide bomber. So now we are stuck with a situation where we don't know who to talk to. We don't know if they have an address, a door that we can knock on, a number we can call. We don't have anyone whose legitimacy as a Taliban representative can be ascertained. Whom do we talk to in an environment of complete unknowns and the lack of an address? We can't talk to more suicide bombers, of course, so we have to have an address. That's not there yet.
NDTV: Given this context, when the world talks of reintegration, reconciliation, and the possibility of sharing power with the Taliban, where does all of that stand? Are you prepared to share power?
President Karzai: There is no talk of sharing power with the Taliban. If power sharing means a coalition government then there is nothing like that. There is talk on our side of a peace process, of inviting all those Taliban who are Afghans, who don't want to hurt their country, who are not part of Al Qaeda or any terrorist network. Those who accept the Afghan Constitution and the progress we have made, the gains Afghan women have made, and the human rights aspirations of the Afghan people. They are welcome to be part of the Afghan polity and society if those conditions are fulfilled. They must recognise that rather than hurting their country they must join it and build it. In other words, they would have all the rights and responsibilities given to Afghan citizens by the Afghan Constitution.
NDTV: You talk of this and we hear reports of bringing various groups on to the table. Some of them, like the Haqqani network, are the same ones who are responsible for so many attacks that take place. The Americans seem to have focused all their attention for now on this one group. Do you see the Haqqani network deserving a seat at the table when you say that everyone who is a stakeholder has to have a seat at the table? And, if so, does this then translate into two seats for Pakistan at the negotiating table?
President Karzai: We are not talking of the Haqqani network or any other network. We are talking to those Afghans who have left their country for reasons that we all know of; those who are not a part of Al Qaeda, or any other terror network, and who accept the Afghan Constitution. Those who want to come back and participate in the rebuilding of the country in accordance with the Constitution of Afghanistan. So it's not to deal with a group, or provide power to a certain group, within the Afghan political system. That should be given by a free vote of the Afghan people under a constitutional process. In other words, when they return, if they return, they will have all the rights that other Afghans have. They can stand for elections for Parliament, provincial councils, and for the post of president. They can participate in all aspects of Afghan government and society.
NDTV: In this context, and we've also seen the announcements regarding the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan by 2014, what are your concerns over the future of the security situation?
President Karzai: Afghanistan has gone through a very painful three decades of violence, interference, invasions and foreign troop arrivals. Afghanistan has to be protected by its own people. It is our job to protect our country, and historically we have done that very well. Afghanistan is known for doing it well. The special circumstances imposed on Afghanistan, beginning with the Soviet invasion, our resistance against it, and the interference and meddling that followed, almost brought the Afghan state to complete destruction. The arrival of NATO forces in the aftermath of September 11 presented a unique situation to Afghanistan, and the neighbourhood as well as the international community, of cooperation and of rebuilding the Afghan state and making it safe and run according to the will of the Afghan people in accordance with the Constitution. The International community and NATO forces will have to leave one day. We would like them to leave sooner rather than later. We would like to have our country provided for by ourselves. We would like to secure its borders. We would like to earn our bread and butter, and welcome the participation and help that they have given us. But it is our job to protect ourselves and our country.
NDTV: Do you think that your security forces are in a position to take over?
President Karzai: They are trained and equipped adequately enough for the internal consumption of Afghanistan. Even if they are not, as I said earlier, the fact of the matter is that the Afghans have to provide for their own security. We are moving away from the special environment that was created after September11, or before that. We are moving towards an environment of better regional cooperation. I was glad to see the India-Pakistan dialogue going well, I hope that the same, and much more, will take place between Afghanistan and Pakistan. These are the things that we should be doing, concentrating more on the region and ourselves.
NDTV: Afghan-Pak ties are strained right now. What do you think is the way out of that? You said in an interview to Geo TV that you would support Pakistan if it were to be attacked by the US. I believe you said you had been misquoted or misrepresented. What exactly happened?
President Karzai: No, it was projected correctly. That is exactly what I said. I was asked about whom Afghanistan would support if there ever were a war between Pakistan and America, or if Pakistan were to be attacked by America. Well, first of all, I hope there will be no such attacks, that there will be no wars. This region has had enough bad fortune with regards to wars. I hope we talk about peace rather than fighting a war. But if, God forbid, that were ever to happen, the Afghans would support the Pakistani people. The people of Pakistan gave us home, shared their bread, shared their environment, and gave us tremendous hospitality for almost 30 years as refugees. As a neighbour we can never think of attacking another neighbour. So I once again say that if there is such a situation, and I hope that it will never happen, the Afghan people will be with the Pakistani people.
NDTV: So is it the same people of Pakistan who are being given these safe havens in border areas and launching attacks in Afghan territory?
President Karzai: The people of Pakistan have no blame in this. The people of Pakistan suffer as the people of Afghanistan do, and, as occasionally, the people of India do. So the people of Pakistan are not to be blamed for that. They give us home. They suffer as we do.
NDTV: So what do you think is the way out of this strain in relations with Pakistan?
President Karzai: The way out is for us to make sure that our territories are not used by extremist radical terrorist groups, that no state machinery, no part of our state, provides support to such elements. We have to ensure that radicalism and terrorism is not used as an instrument of policy. This is the way forward between us and Pakistan. This is the way forward between India and Pakistan. This is the way forward for the region.
NDTV: What role do you expect to see India play in Afghanistan's future, both in terms of security and in terms of reconstruction that's already taking place on the ground already? What role do you see for India in a transitional/post-transition phase?
President Karzai: Well India is the first country with which we have signed a strategic partnership. That signifies a very important relationship. That also signifies our recognition of India's contribution to Afghanistan, especially in the last 10 years. India traditionally is not a donor country, but went out of its way to provide for Afghanistan, to share its hard earned money, the toil of the Indian people with the Afghan people. We are very, very grateful for that. The Afghans will never forget that. India's contribution in the future to Afghanistan will, I am sure, remain as it is. India will remain a friend, Afghanistan will remain a friend. India has substantial contributions to make to Afghanistan.
NDTV: But with the relationship with India blossoming the way it does, do you see another great game unfolding between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan, even in terms of the mineral wealth of Afghanistan? A recent contract of iron ore mines has been given to India.
President Karzai: We should all be engaging in a cooperative great game, rather than in a conflicting great game. The time for great games has passed. Any great game in the region will unfortunately ensure destruction and misery for all of our people. There should be, and I hope this is understood, a great game of cooperation with cooperation, exchanges, trade, cultural activity, and peaceful unleashing of the energies of the youth.
NDTV: If this is what you hope for from India, what do you expect from Pakistan?
President Karzai: The same thing. Pakistan is a neighbour of Afghanistan. Speaking in an address to an Indian forum the day after I signed the strategic partnership agreement with India, I called India a great friend, a jigri dost. But I called Pakistan a twin brother. Pakistan is a twin brother, and twin brothers are supposed to be the closest of all the beings in the world. So my expectation from Pakistan is the expectation of a twin brother, and the same should be the expectation of Pakistan from us. Do you know what that expectation means from a twin brother? Peace, stability, goodwill and...
NDTV: Don't send in the Haqqani group?
President Karzai: Definitely don't send in any Haqqani groups, any terrorist groups.
NDTV: Do you think the fight has now entered its final stages or is there a long way to go for Afghanistan?
President Karzai: I hope it will be shorter and shorter. Rather, I hope it will be the shortest of fights.
NDTV: And you don't see the troop pullout in 2014 as being something that is abandonment in a sense?
President Karzai: We are not worried about it, the international community has to go home one day. We thank them for their contributions to Afghanistan. They have made significant contributions to our country, but they need to go home one day. We should not be a burden on them anymore. We should provide for ourselves. That means more cooperation from the region.
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