Full Transcript of President Karzai’s Interview with British Newspaper, the Sunday Times

January 27, 2014

 

Christina Lamb, the Correspondent:

Thank you Mr. President for the time to speak with me. I was thinking when I came in; it is twelve years since you came here inaugurated, at that time you had very good relations with the United States, now you don’t seem to have it anymore, why do you think that is happening?

President Karzai:

Even before that when we were at Peshawer during the years of the resistance with the Soviets, we knew that the Americans were helping the radicals, we knew that, all of that, but we still considered them the friends of Afghan people and we were constantly trying to, when the Taliban came initially I supported the Taliban, I felt they were right people, as you know, I was conducting most of my resistance in Afghanistan with them, through them at that time till I recognized that they were causing disunity in the country, that they were generally armed by outside forces and then, from 1996 onwards I put my entire focus on the United States and then seeking US help to come to Afghanistan and to help the Afghan people. I went to the Senate; I went everywhere and to Europe as well. Eventually, they came after 9/11 and the Afghan people welcomed them wholeheartedly. In most of the country, not even a shot was fired when the Taliban were driven out by the people, they just evacuated and left, from 2003 onwards, immediately, when General Mckneill was in charge in here I keep telling the Americans of this country, of its people, of our traditions, of our way of life, and that the Afghan people were their friends. When they began to go to homes, when they began to employ thuggish elements with them, when they began running into people, when they began to intimidate, I kept telling that it was wrong, they didn’t listen to me and I warned them of the region and of the regional politics, they didn’t listen to me. When bombardments began of civilian homes, the people came to tell me. The government was very weak then I didn’t have the means of receiving the reports through the government machinery because there was no machinery, there was no machinery, but the people were there and the people would come and tell me [that] “well President, we are being bombed, you don’t know, we are being bombed, our homes are raided, our women and children are intimidated” and I would bring the US generals to meet with Afghans and their Ambassador. For a year to two years till 2005, I didn’t go out to address the press or to raise my voice publicly against it, from 2005 onwards, on civilian casualties, I felt the need that they were not listening, not paying attention to the Afghan cries, that I should be doing it now publicly and I began to work publicly, so while this business of theirs neglecting the civilian population continued, while they continued to bomb Afghan targets, while they continued to ignore the sanctuaries and all that.

They also began to badly undermine the growth of the Afghan government, the growth of our institutions, the police they did not pay attention to, rather they were paying all the money to private security firms, they ignored, rather than paying the money to the private security firms, which they should pay it to the police but they didn’t and I kept telling them, so to the private security firms, so the parallel government structures, so the contracts, so all other issues and a  lot more and a lot more in between all this, there have been issues. They didn’t work with me, they worked against me on these issues, the prison, the Bagram prison , so whole lot of extremely important issues for us as Afghans, as a people, as a country, eventually I felt as if we didn’t matter to them, what mattered was themselves and their interests, so I had to stand up, not that I was against them, no ,not that I am against them, no, I am a pro-Western person by all standards, I want to engage with the West by all means but I also want an Afghanistan that’s respected, that’s peaceful, that has a life, that doesn’t live in fear so that caused the trouble between us.

Correspondent:

How do you feel when you read that Gates where he wrote in his book that President Obama couldn’t stand you?

President Karzai:

I don’t know what that means, President Obama, well perhaps my public statements are something that they don’t like, perhaps they feel that the President of a poor country like Afghanistan that is so much dependent how dare he speaks, if that is the attitude, then of course they are wrong, as poor as we were we are still a nation. We don’t know other power, we consider ourselves to be the power with all our poverty, we have interests like any other society, like any other people, our life, our children, our families, I want to have a good country, I have always respected President Obama and I continue to respect him, he is the US President, he personally is a very fine person - so on contrary I do have respect for him and consider him quite good!

Correspondent:

But President Bush made much more efforts in having relationship with you and having weekly video conferences with you?

President Karzai:

Yes, not weekly video conferences, President Obama also had quite few video conferences with me, we just did not have a video conference after the one we had in July, I believe, or before July in June, where we had a very direct talk from that conference, we have not been in a video conference, he just sent me a card today for the new year in this season.

Correspondent:

Have you spoken since?

President Karzai:

I don’t know if we have spoken on telephone since. We met in South Africa. But we have not spoken. Letters of course, letters have been exchanged. With President Bush, yes, it was a good relationship, so is with President Obama but relations between countries like Afghanistan and the United States began to deteriorate way back in the second term of President Bush in 2007, with that bombing in Hirat of our civilians and with a sharp difference of opinion on aerial spraying which they wanted to conduct on our agricultural lands which I was opposed to. Deadly opposed to! But they very much wanted and I said no. So it actually began then, and then when they tried to bring to Afghanistan a super UN person, Mr.  Ashdown who himself turned out to be very talented diplomat, I have a lot of respect for him, any other person would have taken it personally from me, but he didn’t, he understood my point of view, he understood that Afghanistan needs to have a government and needs to look after its own affairs, we were not a protectorate, we could not be dealt as a protectorate, so he understood it very well but the plan to have us go that way was seen as not a friendly pact towards Afghanistan.

Correspondent:

Yes, exactly.

President Karzai:

The plan was a joint American-British plan with the Europeans were with them as well, there I began to suspect that they were trying to have us in limbo.

Correspondent:

The Americans are very angry today because you released some of the prisoners.

President Karzai:

Yes!

Correspondent:

 And they say they are dangerous.

 

President Karzai:

We don’t believe that, we definitely don’t believe that, the prison of Bagram is one of the, so to, before I go to Bagram put it in one word for you, to summarize the whole thing as to what went wrong in our relationship with the United States, I believe the best way to summarize this is to put it in the words of Shelley - the great British poet, “I met murder on the way.” This whole twelve years was one of constant pleading with America, please treat our civilians respectfully and treat their lives as the lives of people, if you read a book that has recently come to me, that I began to read it the day before yesterday by Ben Anderson, the American Correspondent, he says in this book and shockingly to me, shockingly! I would have raised hell if I had known this then. I came to know of it through this book yesterday that General Petreaus ordered increased military operations and that from July to November of 2010, there were 3500 bombardments of our country.

Correspondent:

That’s huge!

President Karzai:

 3500 bombardments of our country, aerial bombardments, unbelievable, shocking!

Correspondent:

When he [General Petreaus] came here I remembered at the time he said we come to win the war, he wasn’t into kind of negotiate.

President Karzai:

Win the war against whom, against the Afghan people? So, truly, the relations went wrong, terribly wrong because I met murder on the way. I have never asked the Americans for assistance or money for our country, I have never engaged with them in economic issues, I have never asked for their assistance for our country, I have just asked for the right approach to the war on terror, if they say the sanctuaries are beyond Afghanistan, then they must address that, if they think it’s a problem inside Afghanistan, then it is for us Afghans to resolve that cannot be resolved by the US conducting military operations or bombardments.  

Now the Bagram prison was an issue for me, in way back in 2005, 2006, 2007 but it became an extremely important issue for me, one that I paid an immediate attention after a meeting with Vice-president Joe Biden who was then Senator Joe Biden and Senator Graham and two other respected US senators MacCain and Lieberman. Now I leave Senator MacCain and Senator Lieberman out of this topic because they were not engaged in this conversation, they were a lot more considerate and nice even at that meeting.  

Senator Graham told me this is perhaps early 2008, the date is referred to in Mr. Gates’ book but I don’t remember that exactly, perhaps the winter of 2008, Senator Graham tells me that the Americans are going to build bigger prisons to accommodate more Afghan prisoners.  I said why? Why are you building prisons in Afghanistan? Isn’t that what the Soviets did? And didn’t the Afghan people rise against the Soviets, because exactly wasn’t that one of the biggest reason? He said “well, we will put even those that we have a slight suspicion on in order to put and take thousands of your people into prison.”  I said, “I will not allow you to do that.” He said “you are a one man!”  For some members of the US government Afghanistan was neither a government nor a people, it didn’t have a president, if it had a president, it was only one man. From that day onwards, when the US took thousands of people into Bagram, I began to demand the immediate end to Bagram and worked on it for years and eventually I had to force the United States in 2009 and 2010 to give up, we see they eventually did in 2010 or 2012 through, we are not going to go into series of things that we did.

In my view, Bagram is not a prison where they keep bad guys as they say, or criminals, no, in my view Bagram is to create hatred in segments of the Afghan population against their own country, against their own government and these people who were released yesterday by the Commission. These are people that we have studied totally for three months now and the conclusion of our intelligence and everybody else was that of the eighty eight [88] people, more than forty [40] are, there is nothing about them in our files, in our intelligence and the twenty seven [27] had only one report about them, sixteen [16] were considered to be, you know, of a suspicious background and those we will keep, so our system has cleared them.

Correspondent:

Wasn’t the timing provocative? Given that the Americans are angry about that.

President Karzai:

It’s not, we don’t behave in accordance to timings, we behave on the rights and wrongs of things, our conduct is based on the rights and wrongs of things you cannot keep a person, prisoner if you consider him or her innocent and we consider them innocent, the system consider them innocent, so they had to be released and to go home.

 

 

Correspondent:

And you could tell what happened during the last twelve years? It is incredibly sad, isn’t it? I mean the United States actually lost a lot of lives and spent a lot of money.

President Karzai:

Unfortunately, for them as well, unfortunately for them as well, for the US, for the US soldiers, for the people who have lost their lives here, we have immense sympathies with that, I feel for those families in the United States just like I feel for the families in Afghanistan and now we separate that from the way things were done by the US government, immense respect for the US people, for the taxpayers’ money that was brought to Afghanistan, but was not properly spent, I respect for the taxpayers’ money  but disagreeing with the way this money was spent by their government, respect for the life of the US soldiers lost in Afghanistan, but strong disagreement with the way the US conducted itself in Afghanistan,  so we do have the differentiation and we were mindful of it by all means.

Correspondent:

Well, were you concerned that the US say they are not leaving any troops behind?

President Karzai:

Look, if they do that, it’s their decision; they will have to go one day anyway. And Afghanistan has to find its way out itself, we have been through war and upheavals and sufferings now for thirty years, you were here and followed us closely, now it is thirty [30] years that you are familiar with Afghanistan since 87, since 87 this country has not had a quiet day, how many of our people are saying they should have sent their children to school? Mothers are worried whether they would come back, this has to end and I am trying to do my best to end this before I sign the partnership deal with America, the partnership must serve our purpose, the purpose of security and peace for the Afghan people.

Correspondent:

And you see a way to end this is to have a deal with the Taliban?

President Karzai:

You see, if the Taliban is our internal problem, then as all other internal problems we must find a way, we must find a way ourselves, if the Taliban is an external problem then the United States must join us to identify that external problem, if it has elements of both external and internal, then we must work in separating one from another and find a way out.

Correspondent:

Did you talk on Saturday about wanting the US to bring peace and security, the peace process and bring the Taliban to the table, how can they actually do that, they don’t have much power to make the Taliban come, sit and talk to you?

President Karzai:

They should say it so, they should clarify as to where is that they don’t have power, if they don’t have power over the government of Pakistan, they should say so, if it is the government of Pakistan not helping, they should say it so, if it is the Taliban, they think that they are not willing to come, then we will find out and then it is our job. What I am seeking is clarity.

Correspondent:

Do you believe that the US government could persuade Pakistan government to do this and you think that Pakistan government has the power to bring the Taliban to the Table or perhaps with certain government?

President Karzai:

There are four parties to this problem, the Afghan government, the Afghan country, the US government, the Pakistani government [and] the Taliban, they killed my brother, the next day I stood and called the Taliban brothers and continued to emphasize peace, they killed President Rabbani the Head of the Peace Council, I still called them brother and I asked for peace, they keep blowing  bombs or at least the bombs are blown up in their name but I still keep calling them Afghans and brothers, so our position is clear, we want peace, the Americans say that they are also trying for peace, now the two other elements remain, Pakistan.  Pakistan tells us that they will try their best but if they are trying their best, some result has to come out of it, therefore there still be progress, if the three parties in this circle of four, in this square of four, or of something, just one corner remains, the Taliban corner, we can handle that, if the three of us are working in this imprecation. I am seeking this clarity, I have conveyed to the American government this, as well this morning that they must come out and clarify their position, so then I can go to the Afghan people and say “well, this is the situation, the condition is to have for the peace process and for the launch of the peace process cannot be met by the Americans because of these reasons, now let’s find another way.”

Correspondent:

Do you believe when Pakistan says they don’t control, they can’t make the Taliban come and sit with you?

 

President Karzai:

The Pakistanis say that they don’t control the Taliban but they do say that they have influence over the Taliban, now influence can be considerable, influence can be used, let’s prove that that influence has been used.

Correspondent:

 And where do you think Mullah Omar is? Do you think he is still alive?

President Karzai:

 Sure, he is alive, yes; I believe he is in Pakistan.

Correspondent:

Do you have any contacts?

President Karzai:

 Not directly, not directly.

Correspondent:

Saturday, I was very interested to the comparison you were making with the BSA, you bringing the examples from our joint history.

President Karzai:

The Durand Line? Yes!

Correspondent:

Yeah, Durand Line, Gandomak, how do you feel about what the British have done here in Helmand. I have gone back and forth and it is hard to see the situation is really better than it was before when they went it in?

President Karzai:

I have expressed myself on the British in Helmand in the past. Once in Davos I said something about this, I think it was 2007, just by the time when they were thinking of Mr. Ashdown’s appointment, it created a lot of rebel and anger in the British press if you remember? But let’s say in general terms that the NATO US-led mission in Afghanistan bringing security and stability has not been successful particularly in Helmand. But the British government conducted itself with us in a very civilized way and that I admire and appreciate, all the British governments, especially Prime Minister Cameron’s government has been very civilized  and understanding partner with us and has constantly tried to bring better relations between us and Pakistan.

Correspondent:

But in the beginning they [the British] insisted in moving your governor who had good relations with …

President Karzai:

Which was a bad thing to do, which was wrong, which was wrong, which was a mistake, which the British have now learned, hopefully, not to have done.

Correspondent:

Do you think that the situation would have been better if they have never sent their troops and it doesn’t seem that the attack is a magnet for insurgents and also they could join the insurgency?

President Karzai:

I guess so, the Afghans were not anti-American or anti-British, they did actually support them a lot, and they did support the arrival of the international community. It was the bombardments and forceful entries into civilian homes and a lot more and actually in real terms the undermining of the Afghan government that caused us the trouble.

Correspondent:

But what is it that you feel they did undermine you?

President Karzai:

Well, all those things, creating militias, creating private security firms--caused lawlessness, corruption, brutality, highway robbery, creating parallel structures, systematically waging a psychological war against our people, weakening our resolve, threatening us with consequences if we did not go with their line, encouraging our money to go out of the country, all of those things, a big list I have.

Correspondent:

It does seem to me, as you know I come back and forth all these years that each time I come now, I can go to fewer and fewer places in Afghanistan.

President Karzai:

Exactly, you are right, exactly this is the point, exactly, so effectively what they did was to create pockets of wealth and a vast countryside of deprivation and anger that is exactly what they did and that’s exactly causing trouble, that’s exactly why I am angry. I have been telling them repeatedly not to do, so that’s exactly why I am seeking the peace process because without that the BSA will be having the opposite impact - a negative one, where a part of the country would be under attack and some who take dollar wages and contracts will be attached to a foreign power, the rest detached or worse than that under attack.

 

Correspondent:

In here everybody I was speaking to, since I have been here, including your brother, says that they want the BSA.

President Karzai:

 I want it too, I am not against the BSA, I would have not called the Jirga if I were against the BSA, no! I want the BSA too, but I want it under the right circumstances for the right purpose, why do we want the Americans to stay here?  Do we want them to stay to perpetuate war and conflict and civilians suffering and families in fear or do we want the US bases to stay here to provide our security and what do you call that an anchor, so the peace process will bring us that, or visible and vivid clarity from America on what it is that’s stopping it the launch of the peace process.

Correspondent:

But the US, you would have seen in New York Times yesterday and today saying that you are probably fabricating the photographs and paying people that those things are happening, what do you say to that?

President Karzai:

That’s not true, tell the New York Times, I saw the video myself, I visited other people who suffered vastly the day before yesterday, they were women and children killed, the New York Times says that they were not twelve, they were fewer than twelve, well, let’s say they were not twelve, let’s agree with New York Times, let’s say they were six, why six? Why one? You cannot reduce the whole issue of a brutal bombardment of a civilian home, of a home, to numbers, to photographs. Somebody brought an old photograph that doesn’t remove the fact that women and children died there, that doesn’t remove the fact that a civilian home was bombarded, that people and women and children were killed.

 

 

Correspondent:

Aren’t you concerned that if they do pull out their troops, that they will be still using drones, as they have been doing that in Pakistan?

President Karzai:

 Well then, that will be warfare against the Afghan people that will be seen as a war against the Afghan people while they claim to be allies with us, we want allies, not rivals.

Correspondent:

What would you like to see as your legacy when you step down?            

President Karzai:

I think, my legacy has already been framed in a sense there are only two months left luckily, I am in such a hurry, twelve years is too long. When I came as the President of Afghanistan this country had no government, today it has one, it had no Constitution, and today it has one.

Correspondent: I think you didn’t have heater in this palace?

President Karzai:

Nothing, nothing, today we have millions of children going to school, universities, thousands of our youth, boys and girls are studying abroad, Mujahid, communist, tribal chief, clergy, women are sitting side by side doing business in government.  Afghanistan is a country for all Afghans now, my most important achievement [is that] Afghanistan is home to all Afghans. We have now eleven candidates running for President, a combination of Afghan thinking and people there represented.

Correspondent: And warlords

President Karzai:

And warlords, everybody, everybody, so this country has a lot to show, we are also grateful for the assistance the world has given, I didn’t talk about that. The schools they built for us, the clinics they built for us, the money that came to build roads for us, better standards of living, we are grateful where help was provided, immensely grateful to America, to Britain, to Europe, to everybody. But this could have been a lot better country with a good and honest alliance, and much less suffering for the Afghan people or for the US and NATO troops.

 

Correspondent:

If the BSA is not signed, the US will also pull out its funding and a lot of this would be threatened.

President Karzai:

 I will not want that, but if that comes to that, I would stand before the Afghan people and tell them that we must make a choice whether to continue of this uncertain life of seeing no end to conflict and bombs or to say good bye with the hope that can we find our own means and live our own life the way we want, try our own chances for peace, if you ask as an individual, an Afghan citizen, I would accept to live in poverty rather than living in uncertainty, I would love my son to be the son of a very poor man but safe and confident and going to school every day and coming back to a poverty-stricken house where I am sure he returns home and that there is a future for him.  The United States and the BSA must guarantee to the Afghan people that future, money is not everything.

Correspondent:

But you wouldn’t be able to pay your own army?

President Karzai:

Why? We have been paying our own armies for centuries, it is not the first time we have an army, and we had armies, magnificent ones.

Correspondent: We knew that!

President Karzai:

Yes, so we can pay that, yes that’s not a problem, it’s not a problem, I don’t think dependency today should be the  driving factor for the BSA, no, the driving factor behind or the desire for the BSA is to bring clarity to this conflict and bring peace or identify the culprit.

Correspondent:

 Isn’t that you don’t want to be the President who signs this?

President Karzai:

No, I would very much sign the BSA if I can be sure that I have done the right thing for the Afghan people,  I know that part of it is right to stay engaged with the West, I know part of it is right to stay engaged with the West, with America but to give the BSA to America, without us having the surety of a better life tomorrow is wrong, I cannot sign something that I am not sure of or confident of myself, I cannot give something to the Afghan people that I cannot consider right.

Correspondent:

 Do you expect that it would be the next President to sign?

President Karzai:

 The next President will not have my experience or my mindset or in other words, he would not be and he would not have gone through the stages and the things that I went through, so my mind is made by what I saw, I saw no good, so I am cautious and careful perhaps wiser as a result, so I am trying to stay prudent to do the right thing, it’s a monumental decision, a monumental decision for the Afghan people!

Correspondent:

 Yes, can see that, presumably your history plays an important part in this?

President Karzai:

Significantly important, significantly important, under pressure, our kings signed things, all of that turned out to be disastrous for Afghanistan, and if under pressure I do the same today, I don’t know the consequences, so I should be sure of the consequences before I sign it, I cannot just gamble, no, it is not an individual decision, it is a national decision.

Correspondent:

What will you do when you are no longer the President anymore?

President Karzai:

The [government] is building a very nice house, a very good one, and I will have very good pension, by Afghan standards it is a good pension, and I will be busy.

Correspondent: And you still will be very young?

President Karzai:

I will be fifty-six (56) and half and I will be no longer the President. So I will have plenty of time and if God gives me a life to go around, visit the country and enjoy myself and go to cafes, visit London during Christmas, and see the lights, visit places, work on Afghan education and be with the Afghan people. 

Correspondent: I remember you used to say that you missed being able to take walks.

President Karzai: Absolutely, I will continue to do that.

Correspondent: Spend more time with the children

President Karzai: Yes, a lot more.