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Newsmaker: Hamid Karzai

While the war in Iraq has dominated recent headlines, the U.S.-led effort to combat al-Qaida and Taliban elements in Afghanistan continues. Afghan President Hamid Karzai discusses efforts to hold elections this September and the need for more peacekeepers to stabilize the war-torn nation.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Mr. President, welcome.

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    Thank you.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let's start by talking about security in Afghanistan. How would you assess it now?

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    We expect this year, because of our elections, to have more of a security problem, we believe, as a result–before the elections for the Afghan Constitutional Assembly, that terrorists will try to increase attacks in Afghanistan in order to make elections difficult or in order to make a bit more trouble for us.

    So we will have security incidents occurring in Afghanistan before the elections, but generally in the fight against terrorism, this war, this fight against the remnants of terrorism will go on for some time. It will not end this year. It will not end next year. We may have it for many years to come. In the meantime we'll be building our national army, our national police, and other institutions that are necessary to fight terrorism and to bring an orderly government to Afghanistan and the rule of law.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You know as well as anyone, because your personal security has been threatened, what that can reap on the ability to start a peaceful democratic process. Last week we saw the killings of the Chinese road workers in what we thought was a safe area of the country. Do you think that this represents a resurgence of the Taliban?

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    That incident I don't know yet. We are investigating it. We'll, we'll find out as to who committed that incident. This was a ghastly act against Afghanistan's reconstruction, and really killing people who come from a far off place to help Afghanistan. The resurgence of the Taliban, no. The Taliban movement, the terrorism that was associated with them, they were, as I mentioned earlier, the ruling government in Afghanistan. They have been removed. They have been defeated. They are now hiding. They are seeking targets of opportunity. They are seeking soft targets, aid workers, reconstruction workers. They're not engaging militarily with us. They cannot do that.

    So as far as terrorism or the Taliban, as the structure is concerned, it is gone. As far as they're concerned as elements or groups that seek targets of opportunity and hit and run things, they're still there. They will remain with us.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let me read to you something in this morning's Financial Times, the NATO top commander, NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, General Rick Hillier, was quoted as saying, "Perhaps some day Afghanistan will become self-sustaining, but there are speed bumps in the road. If they are not handled properly, they could derail the process of creating a state."

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    That's very true. That's very right. We have in Afghanistan achieved a lot, but we have significant difficulties as well. The difficulties are the poppies that are growing in Afghanistan. The difficulties are the continuation of, of the private militia forces in Afghanistan. These are two major obstacles that we have to remove alongside fighting terrorism. And poppies, the highest on the list because poppies are not only criminalizing the Afghan economy, destroying our agriculture, destroying lives, addicting people, but they are also going hand in hand with terrorism, with extremism and with warlords in Afghanistan.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The second thing you mentioned was the rise or the sustained–

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    No, the militia.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    –the private militia.

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    Yes, the continuation.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Continuation.

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    The continuation of private militia is something that the Afghan people are really [inaudible]. It slows down our movement towards building a nation that has institutional order, that has democracy, that has the rule of law, that can collect taxes, that can pay for its own bread and butter. Therefore, in order for us in Afghanistan to have a state that is free from terrorism, from drugs, we must attack all the three menaces that are–that can, that do, enhance to make things difficult for us and for the region, for the world. So private militias have to go. We have a problem in Afghanistan called the DDR, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Through this program we are trying to take weapons away and those of them that want to be part of the national army, will be taken in, others to the police. Others will be taken in the civilian part of the economy.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So far in that disarmament program only 6,000 of the 40,000 militia have been disarmed. Is that a success?

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    I am personally not happy with the way the disarmament program has gone on, and the Afghan people are not happy, and they're pressuring us very, very hard, pressuring us very, very hard to accomplish what we have promised to them.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let's talk about politics, Afghan style. In September you're supposed to have elections. They've been delayed before. Will they happen?

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    They– the elections delayed or postponed from June to September was not a delay that was related to security or any other matter. It was purely a technical delay because we were not ready with the registration of voters. We need voters to go to elections, and the voters were not registered. Yesterday we had registered 3.7 million voters, and if this trend continues, by the time of the election we hope very much to have more than 6 million voters in Afghanistan. That should be good enough for us, a basis for, to go to elections. Yes, I'm very much looking forward to the elections. The Afghan people are looking forward to the elections, and we will have it.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Is it possible to have fair, free elections without security stability?

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    No, no. That's a very good question because it also reminds me of something that I forgot to tell you earlier.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Okay.

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    The, the question of the removal of private militias is also very important for free, fair and just elections in Afghanistan so that the Afghan people can have the right to vote the way they want without coercion, without intimidation.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So can that happen in time for September, I guess?

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    Well, for that there are two other ways as well. One is the deployment of NATO forces, which we hope will occur before, before the elections. The other is the deployment of the national army and the national police of Afghanistan to the extent possible in areas where we fear there is private militias or warlordism, to go and address it. But we will try both, and we will try other means as well to enable Afghanistan to vote freely.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    One of the most severe criticisms that have been lodged against you is your, your willingness to–I don't know if the word is negotiate or coalesce or meet with, at the very least, the warlords or representatives of many of the people who people felt brought Afghanistan down, even pre-Taliban.

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    Yes, yes, that is the feeling in the people in Afghanistan. But a lot of the people that I speak to are part of that country, part of that establishment, and they were part of the whole process which was initiated by the international community. And quite a few of them are, on the other hand, very respectable Afghans that were part of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets. They are part of the establishment. They are recognized persons in Afghanistan. And after all, I'm the president of Afghanistan. I'm supposed to be talking to all Afghans. It is my job to take Afghanistan peacefully towards a better day. It is my job to take Afghanistan towards stability by enhancing it, by talking to people. What should I do? Not talk to them? Shun them away? Fight them? Is that my job, or is my job to create an environment whereby the Afghan people begin to talk to each other, whereby the Afghan people go to voting, go to elections by reaching compromises, by reaching agreements. Aren't we beginning a democracy? Isn't democracy about talking?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Is there any danger, however, that you will endanger your own credibility in these negotiations or these conversations?

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    You see, these gentlemen or these groups are the reality of Afghanistan, and our organization is as good as the people in it. You can't do without, without that. I have to talk to them.

    But whether I will deviate from the path that we have taken, the path of reform, the path of the building of Afghanistan, the path of institution building, the path of ending corruption and warlordism, and drugs, and fight against terrorism, never. I have a platform. That platform is for a secure, stable, prosperous, democratic Afghanistan. Now, whoever joins me in that platform for the future of the country the Afghan people will like. And those who do not join me will not be part of that platform regardless of who they are.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You have been quoted as saying that corruption is a mirage, something you can't quite nail down. Is it a mirage or is it a roadblock to democracy?

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    The ability of Afghanistan to attack corruption is–has many sides. One is the weakness of the administrative system, which by itself causes corruption. Second is the weakness of the judicial system which was also weakened by years of war. Third is the weakness to really grab someone, to find a fact. I'm told sometimes that so-and-so is corrupt. And I say, "All right. How is he corrupt? Can I have an evidence? Can I–if I call him to my office and tell him, Mr. so-and-so, you are corrupt, can I tell him this is what you have done and this is what you've–what I have on you that you are corrupt, so get lost and I am going to dismiss you?" Then we find out that we have no evidence. So when I say that it's a mirage it's because I cannot catch the person that's corrupt and tell him, "You are corrupt and you are fired." Now we have began a number of institutional structures to address corruption. I've asked the intelligence, I've asked the attorney general, I've asked others to bring me even the slightest evidence against people that are corrupt, and I will not ask for more, and I will act on it.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Final question for you. You're here in Washington to meet with President Bush and to speak to a joint meeting of Congress. Do you bring to this task any concern that Afghanistan has become the forgotten war in the United States?

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    The United States has not forgotten Afghanistan, fortunately. There was a feeling as the war in Iraq was beginning that perhaps Afghanistan would be forgotten and we expected that we'd be forgotten. But after the operations in Iraq began we found out that, no, the United States remained focused on Afghanistan. Assistance to Afghanistan has actually increased in the past two years. In the past year since Operation Iraq, Afghanistan's receiving close to $2.2 billion this year from the United States, and last year it received the same. And the United States has made commitments for the future as well. It has not reduced its attention to Afghanistan. Whether we in Afghanistan require, need more attention, of course, we do. But the attention that we are receiving today is alright and Iraq has not affected it at all.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Mr. President, thank you very much.

  • HAMID KARZAI:

    Thank you very much, ma'am. It's good to talk to you.