ABC's Diane Sawyer Interviews Afghan President Hamid Karzai

ABC's Diane Sawyer sits down with Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

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.

SAWYER: As you know -- and we have talked about it before, too -- there are headlines every week about administration officials, senators criticizing corruption in the government of Afghanistan. The president has said no more blank check. General McChrystal has said there's a crisis of confidence in the ability of your government to deliver services, services as well, in some cases, as the Taliban delivers services.

KARZAI: Well, the Taliban don't deliver any service at all. They never did. 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. 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 -- and over 40,000 students in -- in -- in our universities. Our health service is a lot -- a lot more better.

Now, we do provide services. Now, with regard to the ability of the Afghan government to provide better services, of course we are not as good as you are in America. We are not even as good as Pakistan or Iran. We may be 50 percent of the abilities that our neighbors have. That's why we are in trouble. That's why we need the help of the rest of the world.

Had we been an effective state, an effective government, we would not be talking about all the troubles that we have.

SAWYER: But, as you know, part of the opposition in the United States was Americans are losing their lives, and we know Afghan security forces and civilians are losing their lives, too. But Americans are losing their lives when corruption is undermining the objective.

KARZAI: Well -- well, you -- we just spoke about a survey by the ABC and BBC. And if that survey's correct, then that means the Afghan people find the current order legitimate.

SAWYER: But they...

KARZAI: Not only legitimate, but -- and also a functioning government. Corruption...

SAWYER: They did also express the feeling that there is corruption, 95 percent of them.

KARZAI: Plenty of it is here, indeed. Corruption is there in Afghanistan. Corruption is undermining our government, our -- our society, and we must continue to work against it. I as the president of Afghanistan am responsible and must take care of the Afghan part of corruption within the Afghan government, within the institutional arrangement of Afghanistan, and there is a long list of things that we have done and that we will continue to do as we move forward.


KARZAI: So the concern is right and legitimate.

SAWYER: And General McChrystal said he felt that you agree that there must be a new day in the tackling of corruption. What is the newest thing that you plan to do that will work?

KARZAI: Well, the newest -- we were just discussing this morning that rather than setting up new organizational structures, we would rather concentrate on streamlining and improving and delivering better procedures and regulations and individuals, in terms of capacity to our government. These are the things that we were discussing today on corruption, and perhaps this is something that we will take also to the conference in London.

SAWYER: You met with General McChrystal today and Ambassador Eikenberry and Senator Levin. KARZAI: Yes.

SAWYER: Anything decided? How did that go? We know that Senator Levin...

KARZAI: It went well. We discussed all the issues that you and I just discussed, including the training of the army, the war on terror, relations with Pakistan, relations in the region, the achievements that we have, the problems that we have, and the failures that we have, and the way forward.

SAWYER: In the reconciliation of the Taliban, any sign that Mullah Omar is ready to negotiate a settlement?


SAWYER: Any sign that another major player is ready to say, "Let's negotiate. Let's finish this"?

KARZAI: No -- no sign yet of Mullah Omar himself, but there is plenty of signs from the Taliban, from the rank-and-file of the Taliban who want to come back to their country who are not our ideological opponents or the sons of the soil (ph) who want to be given an opportunity, who have been driven out of Afghanistan because of fear or intimidation or misconduct by us and the coalition partners together. And those people must be given the opportunity that they seek and that we can offer.

SAWYER: It has been a long eight years.

KARZAI: A long eight years.

SAWYER: Just wondered, how tired do you get? Has this been the toughest year?

KARZAI: No, it has not been the toughest year. Fortunately, in this case, I am not under the pressure of difficulties. I'm under the pressure of achievements, in the sense that I'm seeking to get more and more for this country. We all know we have problems; we all know we have a very serious situation in this region and in Afghanistan.

What I'm counting is the achievements that we have. And what I'm counting is adding on to those achievements. And if I encounter problems, that will be difficult.

In other words, I'm not in negativism. I'm in positivism and optimism. That's the mode, and that's what -- what I'll pursue.

SAWYER: Do you feel that you can say to people in America at the end of 2010 they will see a change in the violence, a change in the reconciliation of Taliban, they will see a dramatic change in Afghanistan?

KARZAI: With the right combination of policies and commitments and a joint work with the United States and our other allies, yes. If we do what we promise, through the right decision-making mechanisms, backed by the proper resources and commitment and clarity, definitely. We did achieve that eight years ago, and we continue to have success until today on lots of fronts. The only area where we have not been able to show progress where things have gone somehow backwards is in terms of security and the war on terror.

On all other fronts, you have progress. You just had three women introduced to the Afghan parliament to become ministers of health and social affairs and women's affairs.

SAWYER: What's the...

KARZAI: That -- yes, please.

SAWYER: Excuse me. On that point, what's the most useful thing external countries could do to help the women of Afghanistan, to help change their lives, their mortality in childbirth, the abuse that they endure?

KARZAI: Education. Education. Education. Education. That's the only and the best way and a long-term solution.

SAWYER: What do you think of General McChrystal?

KARZAI: Good man, has a -- has a clear vision, has a clear plan, especially when it comes to concentrating on providing protection to the Afghan people. That's why I have backed his plan clearly and openly, and I will continue to back him, to provide protection to the Afghan people.

SAWYER: You said once in an interview recently that the United States, you didn't think, really was here for the Afghan nation, that they were -- it was -- there were -- there were hellish problems in Afghanistan before 9/11...


SAWYER: ... and the United States was not here.


SAWYER: Resent that?

KARZAI: The -- the -- I don't resent that, just a fact of life for us. The United States came here after September 11th to fight terrorism, and legitimately to fight terrorism, because they suffered massively at the hands of terrorists at that cowardly attack on -- on New York on civilians and people there.

And we saw a great opportunity for Afghanistan to have its own liberation from terrorism and to move forward. We work together. We have accomplished a lot. We have had setbacks. We've had misunderstandings and difficulties, in which civilian casualties was one major irritant in relations between -- between the two of us.

The more we help on that account, the better will be this partnership between our two countries. So if I'm to advise the United States as an Afghan, I would tell America that Afghanistan will be a great ally of yours. It's -- it's a good, great, friendly country. The only thing that we want from America in this war on terror is to avoid civilian casualties, to avoid nightly raids on our homes, and don't take prisoners. Let Afghanistan have complete judicial independence to handle its own prisoners, its own -- its own prisons, its own judicial decisions. The rest, everything will be good, and we can work together.

SAWYER: When you went to Helmand, there was yet another attempt. We were told it was rocket-fueled gunfire that was fired at you. How many assassination attempts against you?

KARZAI: I don't think there was anything like that.


KARZAI: I saw it in the press. I didn't notice it. Nobody reported it to me. So I have -- I heard one or two bangs. I thought that was, you know, a door shut or opened violently. I'm not aware of any such attacks there.

SAWYER: How many assassination attempts against you, against (inaudible)

KARZAI: I don't know. Maybe three, four? That's not much.

SAWYER: When the U.S. keeps pushing you to go out more in the country...

KARZAI: The Afghan people want to see more of their president. It's a good thing. I should do and have more visits, have the means, as well, to do those visits.

SAWYER: It's a dangerous thing, though.

KARZAI: It's not dangerous. It's part of life. It's -- you face danger all over the world when you travel. You can have accidents on highways. You can have accidents in sports. You can have accidents in all sorts of manners. So for me to be with the Afghan people is a great, great joy. And if that means taking risk, I must take it many times over.

SAWYER: As we know, in American lives alone, more than 950 coalition lives, 1,500, as we said, many more Afghan security forces, Afghan civilians. General McChrystal said at the end of every day the last thing he does is sit down and write hand-written letters to the families of the Americans.

KARZAI: He's right about that.

SAWYER: What do you do at the very end of every day?

KARZAI: I call them. When there are casualties, especially with civilians, I call them. I speak to the community leaders. I speak to the -- to the families of the victims. And I visit them. And I visit those in the hospital. I just was there a few weeks ago. There were some very tragic scenes there. Unfortunately, that's how it is right now.

SAWYER: Is there something you say to yourself each night before you go to sleep?

KARZAI: Not really. I don't say something to myself each night. I continue to work with the rest of the Afghan people for peace. And, indeed, something that's on my mind all the time is how to avoid bloodshed, how to avoid more casualties, both for our international partners and for the Afghan people, and how to bring an end to a violent day for the Afghan civilians, for the Afghan people, for the international forces, and how eventually to end this extremism that's affecting our lives, that's hurting us, that's hurting you, and how to have a peaceful society.

SAWYER: I know you've said that you do not feel the president's announcement about 2011 is an exit date. But how would you feel if, in July of 2011, you see American troops as they're exiting the country?

KARZAI: In a sense -- in a sense, that -- that -- that exit date is good for us. It pushes us to harder work, to strengthen our forces, to train our forces, to be realistic about life in Afghanistan, and to think many times over of how better we can use our own resources and live with our own means and protect our own country, though I know that America will not be completely out in another 18 months or 15 months.

We know the U.S. and our other allies will be with us for many more years to come. But even then, Afghanistan needs to be a self-sustaining country in all aspects of the needs of -- of this country.

SAWYER: When President Obama criticizes the government of Afghanistan, your reaction when you hear him?

KARZAI: Well, he hasn't done that -- he did that when he was in the -- in the race for -- for president in America.

SAWYER: He made the one statement where he said that there will be no more blank checks.

KARZAI: Blank checks we never had, actually. We really never had a blank check. We are only receiving 20 percent of the resources given to Afghanistan somehow through the Afghan government. The rest is spent by the donors themselves, of which even on a count (ph) is not given to us.

So we never had a blank check. But we're grateful even for the little money that's come to Afghanistan, even for the little help that's come to Afghanistan. We have no right over the American people to -- to pay for us or to -- or to help us. This is our country. We must protect it ourselves and -- and -- 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.

But politically talking, in terms of two countries and two nations, and the needs of each, we have not been given a blank check. We have never been given one, and we don't expect one, and that's not right also to expect one. So we are grateful anyway.

SAWYER: When you look back over the eight years, what's the one thing you most wish you had done differently?

KARZAI: A lot of things I wish I'd done differently, and a lot of things I wish us and America had done differently, a lot of things we -- we requested, we informed the United States about to do differently, which it didn't do. That was matters relating to the region and the neighbors and concentration on sanctuaries and issues like that.

Within Afghanistan, there's -- there's a lot that we could have done differently, not one particular thing.

SAWYER: And, finally, sir, to the 30,000 American troops about to arrive now, the surge of troops just arriving, coming in, some of them coming for the first time, what is it you want to say to them?

KARZAI: Well, I would first wish them all the best, and I would wish them a lot of safety and security there, and I would wish that they all go back to their families in good health and -- and -- and in safety.

Next to that, I would wish them to care for the Afghan people and care for families and children. And when they're in those villages in Afghanistan, they must recognize that every man with a turban and a beard and an Afghan dress is not a Taliban, that there are maybe in 1,000 men, one or two may be Taliban or -- or violent people, that the rest of the people are just communities like you have in America, families like you have in America, who love their children, who love their homes, who work hard, who want to provide, and who are friends with America and who want to see America succeed.

So wish them all the best with their own safety and hope that they would treat those villagers and people as friends.

SAWYER: And a measure of gratitude?

KARZAI: Measure of gratitude to the American people, yes, definitely, for all that help given to us and for all the assistance provided and for the training of the Afghan army and the Afghan police and all that. But on the war on terror, it's the United States that has to be grateful to Afghanistan. It's our soil that's -- that's being used. It's our people that are put in danger every day for a purpose which is not only ours, which is also America's, which is also European, which is also the rest of the world, in which Afghanistan is in the front line.

SAWYER: But Americans feel they're also -- it's, in a sense -- well, can I say this...

KARZAI: Sure, go ahead. Go ahead.


SAWYER: ... think I can say a war on Taliban, but the American people also feel that lives are being sacrificed to keep the Taliban from returning.

KARZAI: We -- we are not against the Taliban returning, if they return...

SAWYER: But to power?

KARZAI: ... if they return peacefully to their own country, accepting the Afghan constitution, accepting Afghanistan's way of life, and accepting to come back and live in their old country peacefully, within the laws of the country, and contest for -- for government or power through the legitimate means. That's all right. We are actually working very hard to make that happen.

But those who are with Al Qaida, those who are with terrorist networks, those who are the enemies of all of us, who are bound to kill our children here and in Washington and in Islamabad and in Jeddah or in -- in Marrakech or in Egypt or in Germany, of course, they have to be dealt with accordingly and not allowed to return.

SAWYER: And it is a worthy sacrifice of lives for all?

KARZAI: For the safety and security of the rest of us in the world, it is a worthy sacrifice, yes. I hope it wouldn't happen. I hope we wouldn't need it. But it is, unfortunately, a reality, and we have to face it.

SAWYER: Mr. President, it is so good to see you again.

KARZAI: Very good to see you, ma'am. Most welcome.

SAWYER: Thank you.