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SPOKESMAN: The President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
RAY SUAREZ: Afghan President Hamid Karzai is now a familiar face in Washington, but this morning he brought a big agenda to the White House and a batch of controversy stewing in his own country.
PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: I am here today to thank you, Mr. President, once again for your leadership in providing Afghanistan the security, the reconstruction, and the freedoms that the Afghan people have today.
RAY SUAREZ: At their meeting, the two presidents committed to what they called a strategic partnership aimed at formalizing the deepening military and political ties between the two countries.
PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: I’m glad that he signed with me today a memorandum of understanding on the long-term partnership between Afghanistan and the United States of America, which will make sure that Afghanistan continues to receive reconstruction assistance; which will make sure that Afghanistan continues to receive training from the U.S. for its military and the police; and which will enable Afghanistan to stand on its own feet eventually and be a good, active member of the region, contributing to peace and stability in the region; and be a bridge between various parts of that part of the world for trade and values.
RAY SUAREZ: But President Bush did not go along with Karzai’s request for more Afghan control over the nearly 17,000 U.S. troops deployed there.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: In terms of more say over our military, our relationship is one of cooperate and consult. Of course, our troops will respond to U.S. commanders, but our U.S. commanders and our diplomatic mission there is in a consultative relationship with the government. It’s a free society. There’s a democratically elected government. They’ve invited us in. And we’ll consult with them in terms of how to achieve mutual goals
RAY SUAREZ: Two weeks ago, widespread rioting filled streets around Afghanistan, which President Karzai today described as politically motivated. It followed a Newsweek Magazine report that U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba had desecrated the Quran by flushing it down a toilet. Newsweek has since retracted the story.
But from Jalalabad to Khost, buildings were on fire — among them the Pakistani consulate and two U.N. buildings.
Crowds chanted “Death to America,” smashed cars and shop windows, and stoned a passing convoy of American soldiers. All told, 17 people died in the rioting and hundreds more were wounded.
Karzai also wants control of Afghan prisoners, particularly after a New York Times article revealed new details of prisoner abuse at Bagram Military Base, including two deaths in 2002. The president spoke forcefully on that topic yesterday on CNN.
PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: We want justice, we want the people responsible for this sort of brutal behavior punished and tried and made public
RAY SUAREZ: Karzai also sharply denied another New York Times article, citing a State Department cable that said Karzai has not worked hard enough to curtail opium production in his country. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, fields of poppies have sprung up rapidly with little regulation and heroine production has soared to record levels.
Just last week, six Afghans were shot dead on the highway south to Khandahar. They were working on an anti-drug project.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on Afghanistan and the U.S., we turn to: Former member of Congress Don Ritter, founder and chairman of the Afghanistan-America Foundation formed to bring peace and stability to that country; and Nazif Shahrani, an Afghan American who’s a professor of anthropology at Indiana University — he spent the last three summers in Afghanistan.
And professor, today Hamid Karzai asked for more Afghan authority over the operations of American troops inside his country. He was rebuffed, but why was it important that he came asking for that?
NAZIF SHAHRANI: Well, I think obviously he is under pressure because of the behavior of American troops in Afghanistan, the people are angry about the kind of behavior that American troops, particularly in the villages. We hear about what is happening through prisoners, but we don’t hear about what’s happening in the villages when American troops go into these villages in search of al-Qaida or Taliban.
There they have entered people’s houses without permission, may have abused them. There’s very little reporting in the United States, but there have been reports by Australian journalists, European journalists, about this, and obviously that has made people very angry. And I think President Karzai feels that. And that’s why he is asking that perhaps the Afghan government should have some control over how American troops operate inside Afghanistan.
RAY SUAREZ: But the American tendency is never to surrender any sovereignty over the operation of their troops in the field. Is he weakened by asking and having the question so summarily dismissed?
NAZIF SHAHRANI: Well, it certainly looks like that. I mean, he has to also show that within Afghanistan, there are Afghan security forces who can, first of all, secure his own detail. In the last three and a half years, he has been protected by hired American service people who protect his own personal safety.
He has not been able to even find people he can trust within the Afghan police force and army to protect him personally. And that in itself also I think perhaps worries President Bush and others in the U.S. military that they should not certainly give up the right that America has over its own military around the world.
RAY SUAREZ: Don Ritter, how do you respond to that?
DON RITTER: I think what the professor says is basically true. But let’s put it in perspective for a minute. The Afghan people like Americans; we’ve been through two wars, we’re still in the second war with them. Vast numbers of Americans are in Afghanistan. I personally am in Afghanistan setting up businesses, promoting a free market economy as part of this Afghan International Chamber of Commerce.
The U.S. troops are very well respected. I remember going out into many outlying areas of Afghanistan, and the people are almost calling for U.S. troops to intervene sometimes on behalf of the people versus the warlords. So there are these incidents where Afghans feel their private properties have been invaded. But I think overall, the relationship between the American military and the Afghan people is a good one.
RAY SUAREZ: Did the president visiting from Afghanistan, now the elected president of Afghanistan, have to put some daylight between himself and George Bush, show his supporters back home that he was asking for more authority, whether or not he got it is a separate issue?
DON RITTER: I think on that subject, absolutely.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Shahrani, today also a strategic partnership was signed between the United States and Afghanistan. Is that an important development?
NAZIF SHAHRANI: Well, it is, I think the timing of the development is worrisome because this is a right that belongs to the Afghan parliament, which has not been even elected; it belongs to the people of Afghanistan. I think it’s a premature agreement, and I’m sure it has raised a great deal of suspicion inside the country and there will be people who will be questioning this. And it may become even an issue in the upcoming election.
The other concern that people have is whether this agreement is really some kind of insurance for the continuation of President Karzai’s own rule, which already, you know, he started with an interim presidency, became transitional president and now elected president. And this sort of lack of temporariness in our part of the world is worrisome, whether it’s in Central Asia, in post colonial societies as a whole or in post Soviet societies. Once a leader is installed, particularly by foreign powers, the tendency is that they seem to continue, and that certainly worries the people in Afghanistan.
It also will be worrisome to the neighbors of Afghanistan. What is the, in fact, the long-term goal of having American presence in that country, and how that will be used, whether it will be used against other countries, although in the declaration there is a clear statement that that’s not the intention. But again the perception will matter a great deal, whether it’s our neighbors or other great powers in the region.
RAY SUAREZ: Don Ritter, go ahead.
DON RITTER: Again, I won’t disagree with what the professor is saying. But again let’s put it in perspective. In the early 1990s, America essentially left Afghanistan to its own devices after ten years of brutal war with the Soviet Union. I think our government wants to make a statement, and I think Afghans would like to see this statement, and this is what the strategic partnership is about, above and beyond the military equation.
It’s: Will the United States stay in Afghanistan, and at what levels are we active, if you look at the strategic partnership; it’s at the level of political, economic, social, humanitarian relationships. It is a statement that the United States intends to fulfill its responsibility having liberated Afghanistan; it now has a responsibility to help it reconstruct.
RAY SUAREZ: But the signing of the agreement comes just a few weeks after President Karzai to the visiting Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, sort of surprised him by offering permanent bases on Afghan soil.
DON RITTER: Yes.
RAY SUAREZ: Given what you said, is Afghanistan still a little insecure that even now almost four years in the United States could just get up and leave one day?
DON RITTER: I think the people of Afghanistan, and I think we have somewhat of a reputation in the last several decades of not fulfilling our international responsibilities as rigorously as people might have expected. And I think the people of — again, weighing the variables in the equation, on the one hand you have people as the professor said who will not like this kind of longer-term solid interaction and on the military bases as well with the United States.
But the great majority of people will say we want the United States to stay this time, we want the United States to help us face down warlordism, and we want the United States to help us retain our independence in a region, which traditionally the neighbors of Afghanistan have not been neighborly. There’s a great difficulty with Pakistan, even to this day, relations are much better, but don’t forget Pakistan did support the Taliban against the best interests of the Afghan people. Iran has its own agenda. You have Russia – still Russia to the north with its agenda. The United States, given this calculus, is the one country, which doesn’t have that kind of traditional historical geographical desire to dominate Afghanistan.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, professor, let me send it right back to you, because just a moment ago you were talking about how the most recent developments looked like, made it look like the United States was settling in for a long time with Afghanistan, you’ve just heard Don Ritter justify that based on past history.
NAZIF SHAHRANI: No, I think the issue is not whether people of Afghanistan wish to have a strong relationship with the United States, particularly when the United States assists Afghanistan in moving towards democratic government, improving the lives and so forth. It’s the timing.
It’s the fact that this proposal basically, according to the declaration, comes from President Karzai. It should have come from the Afghan parliament. It should have been done by the representatives of the people of Afghanistan. And that’s what is concerning at this point. And if it’s going to be a done deal, like a lot of other laws that have been now written, prepared and drafted and put in fact into effect, and after four years we’re going to elect a parliament and then all of these laws will be presented to them and the parliament then is going to be basically a rubber stamp parliament like it has been in the past.
And those are the kinds of things that is going to worry I think the people inside Afghanistan, that whether the ratchet of democracy is really for real, or is it simply just a show that we have had already three elections to elect one man and not elect any representatives of the people of Afghanistan. These are the kinds of things people worry about.
DON RITTER: It’s important to realize that on Sept. 18 there will be parliamentary elections, many of these arrangements and agreements will be reviewed by the parliament and this parliament will not be a rubber stamp.
RAY SUAREZ: Don Ritter, Professor Shahrani, thank you both.
DON RITTER: Thanks.
NAZIF SHAHRANI: Thank you very much.