August 22, 2010— -- Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, pledged to disband private security firms in his country within four months in an exclusive interview on "This Week." Karzai insisted having those companies operate in Afghanistan undermined the country's security forces and were a source of corruption, thievery and harassment. He also alleged that some private security firms engaged in terrorist activity.
In an interview with anchor Christiane Amanpour, Karzai said the quick deadline for their disbandment was necessary. "The more we wait, the more we lose," he said from Kabul.
He insisted the companies were "running a parallel security structure to the Afghan government."
"One of the reasons that I want them disbanded and removed by four months from now is exactly because that their presence is preventing the growth and the development of the Afghan Security Forces, especially the police force because 40,000, 50,000 people are given more salaries than the Afghan police," he said.
"Why would an Afghan young man come to the police if he can get a job in a security firm, have a lot of leeway and without any discipline?" the president of Afghanistan asked.
"In order for security forces to grow, these groups must be disbanded," Karzai said.
He then spoke directly to Americans with a pitch that sounded almost Washingtonesque. "I am appealing to the U.S. taxpayer not allow their hard-earned money to be wasted on groups that are not only providing lots of inconveniences to the Afghan people, but actually are, God knows, in contract with Mafia-like groups and perhaps also funding militants and insurgents and terrorists through those firms," he said.
Amanpour pressed the president on whether he would get rid of all private security forces. "Do you mean even the ones who protect you, who protect military bases, who protect diplomats as well and aid convoys?" she asked.
Karzai conceded that there would be some exceptions for security contractors that are working for foreign governments or aid organizations, but, he said, after the deadline, the rules "will definitely not allow them to be on the roads, in the bazaars, in the streets, on the highways, and we will not allow them to provide protection to supply lines."
"That," Karzai said, "is the job of the Afghan government and the Afghan police."
Amanpour pressed the Afghan president to respond to comments from his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, that the battle for Afghan hearts and minds was lost. Karzai didn't directly address Zardari's claim but said the war on terror was winnable.
"I believe the campaign against terrorism is absolutely winnable," he said. "We have to win, but in order for us to do that, we must end the business as usual and we must begin to reexamine whether we are doing everything correctly."
Karzai said Afghan and foreign forces need to work to increase protection of Afghans, reduce civilians deaths and end corruption.
In an extraordinary admission, the President of Afghanistan admitted he had directly intervened to get a close aide out of prison after the aide, Mohammad Zia Salehi, was arrested on extensive corruption charges. Salehi was arrested after specific approval from the attorney general of Afghanistan, according to The Washington Post.
After he was taken into custody, Amanpour said, "he was subsequently released the very same day, they are saying, because you personally called and asked for him to be released, and they did release him. Is that true? Did you intervene?" she asked.
"Yes, absolutely, I intervened. Not only I intervened, but I intervened very, very strongly," Karzai said.
Karzai defended his intervention because he said his aide was taken and questioned illegally.
"This man was taken out of his house in the middle of the night by 30 Kalashnikov-toting masked men in the name of Afghan law enforcement," an animated Karzai said. "This is exactly reminiscent of the days of the Soviet Union where people were taken away from their homes by armed people in the name of the state and thrown into obscure prisons in some sort of Kangaroo courts. It reminds the Afghan people of those days with immense fear," he said.
"So I have intervened. As I am the president of this country, I must uphold the constitution and do things legally," Karzai said.
Amanpour also asked Karzai about U.S.-mentored anticorruption task forces, which Karzai had earlier spoken out against.
Karzai said the task forces would continue to exist but said that "they should be within the confines of the Afghan law, within the confines of the Afghan penal code and within respect of human rights and should be sovereign Afghan bodies not run or paid by any outside entities."
Karzai said he was shocked by the Taliban stoning a young man and woman in northern Afghanistan last week. According to news reports, the couple -- a 25-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman -- were put to death by stoning because they had eloped without their families' permissions. They were convinced to return to their village but were captured and publically stoned by the Taliban.
"I was shocked when I heard [about the stoning]," Karzai said. "That's a terrible sign. That's indeed part of our failure, the Afghan government and the international community as well, to give protection to the Afghan people. We are investigating it, but it came to me as a deep, deep shock," he said.
Amnesty International strongly condemned the execution, which it says was the first case of Taliban stoning in Afghanistan since 2001.
"The stoning of this couple is a heinous crime. The Taliban and other insurgent groups are growing increasingly brutal in their abuses against Afghans," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director in a statement released on Monday.
Karzai told Amanpour that any potential reconciliation with the Taliban would not erase the progress of women in Afghanistan. "The gains that [Afghan] women have made in political, social and economic walks of life, not only are kept but are promoted and advanced further," he said.
What is Karzai's roadmap for his talks with the Taliban? He insisted it was clear, but was more opaque on the Afghan government's progress in reconciling with the militant group.
"The roadmap is clear. The indications for peace would be that Afghanistan will be ready to talk to those Taliban powers who belong to Afghanistan and are not part of al Qaeda, who are not part of any other terrorist network, who accept the Afghanistan Constitution and the progress that we have achieved in the past so many years and who are willing to return to a normal civilian life and who are not connected to any foreign body outside of Afghanistan," he said.
"How advanced are you in trying to get the Taliban to these talks?" Amanpour asked him.
"There are individual contacts with some Taliban elements," Karzai said. But "that's not yet a formal process."
Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., who met with Karzai earlier this week, said on Friday that contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban were "serious." In an interview with National Public Radio, Kerry said "there are very active efforts now to seek an appropriate kind of political settlement. When I say appropriate, there has to be a renunciation of al-Qaida."
"There has to be a, you know, a reduction of violence," Kerry, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on NPR's "All Things Considered." "And there has to be a recognition of the constitutional rights of both Pakistan and Afghanistan and greater efforts to reduce the sanctuary support for insurgency,"