Transcript: Hamid Karzai, "Too Much of a Democrat"

"Nightline's" Terry Moran recently sat down with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan before his meeting with President Bush. The following is an excerpt of her interview:

Moran: Mr. President, in your country today, there were three suicide bombings that killed 19 people.

I was there last week, two suicide bombings in Kabul. And this comes at a time when the Taliban have reemerged to take over large portions of the country.

Many Americans might look at what's happening in Afghanistan and ask are you sliding backwards into terror and bloodshed and chaos.

Karzai: Well, when the international community and Afghanistan together launched the struggle against terrorism, we were able to defeat them in less than a month and a half, all over the country. They run away, most of them, outside of Afghanistan.

And we began to rebuild, the industry building exercise and the institution of the government and of the country. We accomplished, especially in the institution building part of it, whatever it was asked of the Afghan people by world agreement.

The emergency grant council that elected the president and the government, the constitutional (inaudible) about the constitution of Afghanistan are very enlightened to write a constitution. The president's jurisdiction (inaudible) which 8.5 million people participate in parliamentary relations, in which 7 million people participate, and more than 7 million people participate.

So Afghanistan did all it had to do to embark on a new journey towards a democratic, prosperous future.

Moran: So why isn't it happening?

Karzai: In the meantime, while we are building inside Afghanistan, perhaps the international community and we, Afghans, together turned a blind eye to the terrorists' regrouping outside of Afghanistan, retraining outside of Afghanistan, and waiting for an opportunity to launch an attack again on Afghanistan.

That is perhaps the problem and that's where we have failed to deliver. So in order for us to succeed, we must go to the sources of terrorism, where they are trained, where they are equipped, where they are motivated and where they are sent to kill the international community, their soldiers, their engineers, their aid workers, and Afghan soldiers, clergy, teachers, and children.

Moran: This is happening outside of Afghanistan. You're talking about Pakistan, which has become a sanctuary for these extremists and terrorists.

Karzai: Well, we definitely want our neighbor, our brothers in Pakistan to take a much stronger cooperative approach towards terrorism and to remove sanctuaries of terrorism from their country.

Without that, there will not be an end to the suffering of the Afghan people or to the suffering of the sons and daughters of the rest of the world who are serving in Afghanistan. That's, indeed, true.

Moran: You want Pakistan to take a stronger stance. President Musharraf has just signed a truce with Taliban extremists right across your border.

American officials tell us they think that's a dangerous move. Do you?

Karzai: President Musharraf told me that when he visited us in Kabul and I told him, "Well, you have signed a deal and if the deal holds true, as it has been signed, then good enough. But if it does not, then it will be a dangerous thing for all of us."

And, fortunately, after the deal was signed, there were two tribal elders in Pakistan, in the same region, killed by the terrorists. There was an Afghan governor killed, which is in the neighborhood of that part of Pakistan where the deal was signed. There was another suicide attack on a funeral of the same governor.

We have seen, right after President Musharraf's trip, that we have had more suicide bombs and more killing of the Afghan people in the international community.

So we do now have concerns about that kind of deal-making and we should look much deeper into it as we meet again with President Musharraf.

Moran: It sounds like Pakistan's a problem.

Karzai: We want definitely a much stronger action there. Without that, neither Afghanistan nor the international community will be secure, in Afghanistan or in the rest of the world.

Moran: American officials believe that all of the top Taliban officials, Mullah Omar and the others, Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda leaders are all in Pakistan.

Do you believe that?

Karzai: That is our information, too, yes.

Moran: Have you been able to give to the Pakistani government information on where some of those people are located, based on your intelligence?

Karzai: We have given to our brothers in Pakistan, from time to time, information about terrorist leaders, their hideouts, their places of training or places where they work and organize.

We have passed twice or thrice quite relevant information to Pakistan on these questions, yes.

Moran: Did they act on it?

Karzai: Not in most cases, no, not where we needed it.

Moran: You told the government of Pakistan, based on your intelligence, where there were top Taliban leaders and others.

Karzai: Yes.

Moran: And they didn't act on it.

Karzai: No.

Moran: What does that tell you about that government?

Karzai: Well, the information that we received back was that those addresses were old; that, in some cases, those addresses were three or six months old or that those telephone numbers were not working anymore; that the information was correct, but it was old.

Moran: Do you buy that?

Karzai: Well, we don't know. We hope that we were wrong.

Moran: You hope that you were wrong.

Karzai: We hope that we were wrong, for good reasons.

Moran: What if you weren't? What if you have a situation where there are elements of the Pakistani government, which has long wanted to have influence in your country, still stirring up trouble?

Karzai: A great majority of the Afghan people believe that.

Moran: They believe Pakistan's trying...

Karzai: The great majority of the Afghan people believe that Pakistan had influence in Afghanistan right from the start for liberation war against the Soviet Union, when millions of our people became refugees in Pakistan, when the rest of the world began to help the Afghan resistance against the Soviets through Pakistan.

That brought Pakistan considerable influence in determining Afghan affairs. But that was an extraordinary time.

With the arrival of the international community, with the kicking out of terrorism and the Taliban and their backers from Afghanistan, we hope that our friends in Pakistan would recognize that a new Afghanistan, Afghanistan that had now a democratic government, would be a good neighbor with them, would be the most beneficial to Pakistan of all of their neighbors, and that, indeed, is how it is.

But sometimes we get a feeling as if that's not recognized, as if this habit of intention of seeing some sort of control in Afghanistan is still there. And perhaps that's why we still suffer.

Moran: Let me shift gears, if I may, for a moment. I talked to a lot of Afghans last week and to a man, they expressed disappointment in your government. People are disappointed.

They say that your government has failed to deliver on the promises that they felt were made when they voted for you.

Karzai: We did deliver on some of the promises. For example, we promised them better roads. We did deliver on that, with the help of the international community, with the help of the United States, in particular.

We did deliver on better health services to the Afghan people. We did deliver on building them schools. We did deliver on a better economy.

When I took over in 2001, Afghanistan's income per capita was a $180. Today, that income per capita is $355. And I promised the Afghan people that by the time my term is over, they should have $500 and I'm sure, if things go the way they are, we will have that.

Where we have failed to deliver is, indeed, in the area of security, because we did bring them a strong police force. We did not take a strong police force to the districts of the country.

We failed to provide, in some instances, particularly in the south of the country, protection to the Afghan people against terrorism.

There's corruption in the government, something that will not go away easily. But, still, any society would expect to do away with that sooner rather than later.

Yes, there are areas in which we have delivered very, very well. There are areas in which I, as the president, was trying to say, well, we have not achieved much.

Moran: An Afghan friend said to me, "President Karzai was elected with 55 percent of the vote. He's got the whole international community behind him, thousands of American troops. He's the strongest leader, potentially, that Afghanistan has had, and, yet, he can't get these things done."

Karzai: Well, we can't get those things done because some of them are not within our means. Having a strong police force is not done with words only. I need money and resources and commitment in time to deliver, in time and the time both to deliver.

On terrorism, it needs international cooperation. It needs focusing on the sources of terrorism and we have not yet focused properly or broadly on the sources of terrorism. And, yet, the international community and Afghans have sacrificed precious lives to provide security to the Afghan people and, by association, to the rest of the world.

So you can, in terms of security, say the jar is half empty or half full. Five years ago, Afghan people were living under the rule of terrorism. Today they're free. Today they practice democracy. Today there is a freedom of the press. Today there is freedom of movement. Today any Afghan can get up and go anywhere in the world and move anyplace in Afghanistan freely.

So those are the things that we have achieved, but, yet, an average Afghan would want from his or her president complete security, especially from terrorism, and that's what me, the Afghan people and the international community are trying to deliver.

Should we do it differently? I guess, yes. And what does that mean? That means focusing strongly on the sources of terrorism rather than going around in Afghanistan.

Moran: What do you mean by the sources of terrorism?

Karzai: Wherever they're trained.

Moran: I see.

Karzai: Wherever they're motivated, wherever they are given equipment, wherever they're given the direction to go and kill a Canadian soldier or to go and kill an American soldier or a British soldier or an Indian engineer or an Afghan teacher or an Afghan clergyman.

That is the source and unless we dry that source, we will continue to suffer in Kabul, in London, on Ottawa, in Madrid, and God knows where the next target will be.

Moran: Opium, Afghanistan, many people believe, is in danger of becoming a narco state. Opium production is higher than it's ever been. There are some allegations that the drug trade has touched relatives of yourself.

How are you going to get rid of the drug corruption in your country?

Karzai: This is an embarrassment to Afghanistan, drugs, indeed, but it's an embarrassment that's a reality, that you have to live with. Drugs came to Afghanistan because of Afghanistan's despair and lack of hope for tomorrow, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, when they began to destroy our country, when we began to fight them.

Millions of Afghans became refugees. Millions in their homes were not sure if they were going to have their home the next day or if they were going to have their children the next day or if they were going to be refugees the next day or still staying in their villages.

That despair drove a lot of Afghans to grow poppies, as it was also encouraged from outside for easy cash. I know families who have destroyed their pomegranate fields to replace them with poppies. I know families who have destroyed their vineyards to replace them with poppies.

Now, the economic reality is a gripping reality. It doesn't go away easily. There's also the international mafia that has an immense interest in having Afghanistan grow poppies.

What is it we should do to get rid of it? I was quite naive about this when I began four years ago. I thought we will destroy poppies one year and the next year there will be something else in place of it.

I did not recognize that it was a much deeper problem than we had envisaged. Therefore, we need time. Now, given the time, we need strong law enforcement, dedicated eradication, good, comprehensive alternative livelihood, which is the international community's part of the responsibility, and the overall continuation of the rebuilding of the Afghan infrastructure, the economy, and all that.

Alongside this, there should be very strong focus on the mafia linkages that are there to the Afghan poppy growing. After all, the Afghan farmer gets no more than $600 or $700 million of the money that poppy produces and poppy produces almost $50 billion in the eventual trade around the world.

So we are getting the bad name, the disrespect. Somebody else gets the benefit and the money. Therefore, for all reasons, it is in Afghanistan's interest, for reasons of dignity, for reasons of a good, better life of the future, and for reasons of fighting terrorism.

Poppy money pays terrorists. All of the money that they get to kill us and your soldiers and other soldiers is coming from poppy. So for all reasons, Afghanistan has no option but to destroy the poppies.

Moran: But it sounds as if you're saying that's going to take a while. It's so deeply rooted that poppy growing, opium growing in Afghanistan is just going to be a fact of life.

Karzai: It is deeply rooted, it is very deeply rooted and that's why I am much more -- what word should I use -- sober about this now. I'm in a hurry and yet I'm not in a hurry, recognizing the time that it should take.

Moran: But it is so corrosive. When I left Afghanistan last week, at the airport, a man walked past me, up to a uniformed customs official, gave him a knowing look and a crisp $100 bill.

Now, I have no idea if that was a bribe or not, but it might be.

Karzai: Well, if this man were a poppy (inaudible), he wouldn't pass a $100 there. They should be dealing with much bigger amounts of money. That's petty corruption there, for what may be for other reasons.

But it is a deep problem. It's corrosive, no doubt. There's no doubt that it affects our government, its performance and its cleanliness.

Moran: People say you tolerate it, that you have ministers that you know are on the take.

Karzai: That's not true. There are no ministers that are involved in drugs, definitely not true. There may be people in the government who benefit from it. It's not a question of toleration. It is what it is that we can do about it.

Moran: Fire them.

Karzai: How many and with what proof? And does it end it? No. Corruption related to drugs is a problem perhaps. Corruption unrelated to drugs is a problem. But then Afghanistan has gone through 30 years of war. It has to heal itself.

When you need surgery, you do it. When you need medication, you do that. I apply both means, surgical and medication, treatment. We have to treat this country.

If I recognize that by firing a corrupt official, I will bring an end to corruption or reduce it, I will do that immediately. But if I don't know the replacement of that corrupt official, there are some people that I know are no good, but firing them will not bring us an improvement of situation or an end to corruption or a better administration.

There are people that we have fired. There are people we have put behind bars. But still I get more cases. Therefore, there needs to be a systemic correction. The new attorney general, the new chief justice, they are working on this, plus other people in the administration, how best to address the question of corruption in the government.

Now, having said this, let me make one clarification here. Corruption in the Afghan government is perhaps no more than corruption in the rest of the neighborhood of Afghanistan, other than Iran. It's perhaps less than those countries.

But it affects us more because we want to be better, because we are partners in the international community, because we are a democratic country, because we want to be accountable and with transparency, because we want to have sooner a better administration.

That's why we are bothered. That's why we are concerned. That's why it's a matter of shame for us.

Moran: You told "Time Magazine" recently that perhaps -- you said, "Perhaps I'm too much of a democrat for my country right now." What did you mean by that?

Karzai: Well, I guess I meant exactly that. Now, I don't think press in any other country around that region as free as it is in Afghanistan. I don't think the population or the press or the civil society has as much freedom in criticizing even the president of the country as they do in Afghanistan.

And my nature is to have a society where people can speak, where there should be no fear of autonomy. And I'm not a pro-government person, in other words. I like a stronger society.

What I'm working for is a stronger Afghan society, a better economy, stronger civil society, stronger community, just like the United States, the best model for me. The less there is the government, the stronger the society, the better will life be and that's what I mean by that.


Moran: I want to ask this question, because I think it's important for Americans. Do you believe that the war in Iraq siphoned off resources, U.S. resources, international resources, that could have kept the peace in Afghanistan, defeated al-Qaeda and Taliban, captured Osama Bin Laden?

Karzai: I don't know if it took off some of the resources away from Afghanistan. I don't know, if there were no Iraq, that the U.S. would have given us more money. But I know perhaps it took away attention from us. In that way, yes, we perhaps suffered.

I see that now, with the consequences of it now. I have also seen, in the past two or three months, after we spoke louder, that there is now a refocusing of attention of Afghanistan, for obvious reasons, because Afghanistan has begun to suffer, again, at the hands of terrorism.

And I'll be meeting with President Bush in a few days' time. These are all issues that we will discuss and find ways of handling in a better way.

Moran: Good luck.

Karzai: Thank you.

Moran: Thank you very much.