Afghan President Hamid Karzai disputed President Obama's claim that Afghanistan once had a "blank check" from the U.S., but said he is grateful for the "little help" that has been sent to his war battered country.
Karzai staunchly defended his eight-year administration today in an exclusive interview with ABC's "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer.
Sawyer asked Karzai how he felt when he heard Obama criticize his government and tell Americans that the Afghan government will no longer have a "blank check" for U.S. assistance.
"Blank checks we never had, actually. We really never had a blank check," the Afghan president told Sawyer.
He complained that only 20 percent of developmental donations are funneled through the Afghan government, with the rest spent by the donors themselves.
"So we never had a blank check," Karzai said. "But we're grateful even for the little money that's come to Afghanistan, even for the little help that's come to Afghanistan."
He added, "We have no right over the American people to pay for us or to help us. This is our country. We must protect it ourselves and provide for it ourselves. So help from America is welcome. And even a penny is worth billions for us. In terms of gratitude, we are grateful for the help that we have received."
Since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to topple the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. has spent $171 billion to keep the Taliban at bay and billions more for development. In addition, about 900 U.S. soldiers have died fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Many senior Afghan officials, including a government minister who spoke to Sawyer after her interview with Karzai, argue that only a fraction of the international community's money had been delivered to the government for development, less than $500 million per year. In a country whose GDP is half of Boise, Idaho's, government officials argue American money has been delivered with too many caveats and often not to the right people.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told ABC News, "The American people have made extraordinary sacrifices in Afghanistan, particularly our troops and military families. Going forward, the president has made it clear that there will be no blank check, and we will support those Afghan leaders and institutions that combat corruption and deliver for the Afghan people."
Karzai also rejected suggestions that corruption and what Gen. Stanley McChrystal called "a crisiis of confidence" in Karzai's ability to deliver services has undermined the effectiveness of his government.
"Well, the Taliban don't deliver any service at all. They never did," Karzai said. "The Afghan government is providing services. We provide electricity. We provide water. We provide health services. We provide education. We have a thriving marketplace in Afghanistan."
"When we came to power in 2002, Afghanistan's per capita income was a mere $150. Today, it's nearly $500," he argued.
"We had almost no schools, no universities. Today, we have nearly 7 million children going to school. We have from two or three universities that hardly functioned, we are nearly 15 universities, plus private universities in numerous numbers. And over 40,000 students in our universities. Our health service is a lot more better," Karzai said.