Jan. 12, 2010— -- The following is a transcript of ABC News' Diane Sawyer's interview with Afghan president Hamid Karzai. The president says he is grateful for the "little help" that has been sent to his war battered country but disputes President Obama's claim that Afghanistan once had a "blank check" for the U.S. The interview took place on January 12, 2010 in Kabul.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC ANCHOR: Well, again, Mr. President, thank you so much for letting us be here. We have a new ABC News poll conducted around the country, with an enormous number of people. Seventy percent of them said they now approve of the performance of the government, and 90 percent of them said that they prefer the Karzai government especially to the Taliban and other forms. These are -- these are numbers that signify what?
HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: Well, ma'am, this -- this poll has some interesting figures. Ninety percent of Afghans approving the current government over the Taliban government is quite true. Probably more people prefer a democratic government, a government that has liberties, a government that has opportunities given to people, where you have the choice of choosing your way of life, is preferable to what the Taliban were.
On the performance of the government, 70 percent, I don't know, perhaps surround that that figure (ph). We've been -- we've been now in -- in -- in government for eight years. That's a long time. People get tired of seeing the same faces and the same -- the same performance.
So I -- I hope that is true. I hope the 70 percent is true. That would be a high mark of approval. I'd be satisfied eight years on even with 50 percent, so I hope that's true.
SAWYER: There is a sense in the poll that with the re-commitment of American troops that there is a feeling this is a chance, maybe a last chance, but this is a chance to make a quantum difference in what is happening in Afghanistan. Do you feel this year is the last chance?
KARZAI: I cannot describe it as the last chance or the only chance, no. I can call it a great opportunity that we must grasp this year and use it effectively and properly for the good of all of us, for the good of Afghanistan and for the good of America and the rest of the world.
I can say that this is an important opportunity with the renewal of interest in Afghanistan by the United States and the rest of the world with more awareness within Afghanistan on our shortfalls and shortcomings and the requirements for a better Afghanistan. I guess you have to use it very carefully and very effectively.
SAWYER: General McChrystal said yesterday and General Caldwell -- both had headlines -- General McChrystal said he feels that the surge has already changed the feeling among the people that there is a possibility that the Taliban will not return and, therefore, that changes the cooperation they're willing to give. And General Caldwell said he feels he can make the 240,000 Afghanistan security forces by the end of 2010.
KARZAI: In terms of numbers, yes, but in terms of institutionalizing the forces, in terms of giving them a memory (ph) and a culture of a force, we will require a longer time. In terms of equipment, in terms of the means of...
SAWYER: You said five years before the forces can actually control security in the country and 2024 before it's financially feasible?
KARZAI: Well, in -- in -- in this way, that we will be able two years from now to three years from now to take responsibility for securing parts of our country and for providing all the services that any country would need, and by another two years -- that will make it five years -- that we should be in the lead in providing security to the Afghan citizens and providing for their needs.
SAWYER: But has the tide turned, as General McChrystal said to us, that the tide has already begun to turn?
KARZAI: General McChrystal and I were together last week in Helmand province, and we visited a district called Nawa, where I met with the people, where the people were satisfied and happy and doing all right.
Now, if we concentrate almost entirely and effectively on providing protection to the civilian population rather than chasing the Taliban, the surge will be helpful and effective. And that's what I'm -- that's what I keep emphasizing with our Western audience, that the struggle against extremism, this fight against extremism and terrorism can only be won if the Afghan people feel protected in it and if the Afghan people feel that they are given the -- the protection and the security that they require. With this condition fulfilled, yes.
SAWYER: A question about that other part of the war, the drones. Do you feel they're essential? Do you feel they're counterproductive?
KARZAI: The drones are mostly used in Pakistan.
SAWYER: But some here, increasingly.
KARZAI: I have not -- I have not heard of the drones here in Afghanistan. I've heard in Afghanistan of bombardment and things like that, to which we object, to which we say is -- is -- is not going to be helpful, which -- which is hurting the civilians.
But on drones in Pakistan, where a terrorist target is hit and eliminated, that -- that target of terrorism can be justified. But where civilians or civilian homes are -- are damaged or civilians are hurt, of course, then the drones are counterproductive.
SAWYER: There are unmanned vehicles used here, though, yes?
KARZAI: Afghanistan is used for their flights, as Pakistan was used for their flights, but we have not seen drones attacking our villages, our targets in Afghanistan, no.
SAWYER: But the numbers have increased under the Obama administration. Do you feel that the drone attacks are recruiting more Taliban?
KARZAI: If they -- if they hurt the civilians, yes, it will, and that's why we must emphasize that this war on terror must be one that provides protection to the civilians from attacks by the Taliban, from attacks by the terrorists, and by all other elements. In other words, the presence of the international community in this part of the world, in Afghanistan in particular, must be seen by the population as having brought them security and protection, not the opposite of it.