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"If We Fail to Deliver, the Taliban Can Come Back" (Interview with Hamid Karzai)

"If We Fail to Deliver, the Taliban Can Come Back" (Interview with Hamid Karzai)

Publication: India Today
Date: September 16, 2002

Hamid Karzai, 45, Afghanistan's snazzily dressed President, has the world's toughest job but insists that he isn't losing any sleep over it. Aware that it was US backing that propelled him to the presidency, Karzai jokes that he is a pauper king. Born in Kandahar, Karzai, a Pashtoon, is chief of the Popalzai tribe that resides in southern Afghanistan. In the 1970s he did a part of his higher education in Shimla in India. After serving as a mujahid adviser in the 1980s, Karzai was made deputy foreign minister in 1992. When the Taliban seized power in 1996, he initially backed them. In 1999, after they murdered his father Abdul Ahad Karzai in Quetta, Pakistan, he turned against them. This June, the Loya Jirga, or meeting of traditional tribal chieftains, elected him with a decisive majority. Last week, at the presidential palace in Kabul, the Afghan President, in an exclusive interview to Executive Editor Raj Chengappa, spoke of the challenges ahead. Excerpts:

Q.: The western media has been critical of your inability to assert central authority on the provinces. Some say you are just the mayor of Kabul. What do you say?
A.: It is ignorance and I cannot compete with that. The central authority in terms of political power is absolute all over Afghanistan. In terms of extension of administration, of course, it hasn't happened. They would be right if the appointment of the army chief, the governors, the commandants were done by somebody else. All these appointments, even down to the district administrator, are done from the centre.

Q.: You are said to be too accommodative of all groups which makes your administration less effective.
A.: You want me to fight against Afghanistan? Of course, I am accommodative. I would like the country to get together, for the people to go ahead and have a good life. It will take time but we want to have peace in the country. I had to make a choice between justice and peace. I am willing to tolerate a lot of bad people in order to have this country go further in peace.

Q.: Most Afghan governments have failed in the past 23 years. Why will yours work?
A.: There is qualitative difference between past governments and ours. This government has a clear public mandate. Secondly, this government has the clear backing of the international community. It is these two pillars of strengths that we count on to make us better.

Q.: Is there a threat of the Taliban regrouping and coming back to power?
A.: No. If we deliver on the promises we have made to the Afghan people, the Taliban will not come back. If we fail to do that, of course, anybody, even the Taliban, can come back and throw us out. Like in India, a government that doesn't deliver has to go.

Q.: Except that in India we don't descend to such chaos and anarchy.
A.: Yes, but you control your borders. We couldn't. We first had the Soviets and then too many coming in from neighbouring countries.

Q.: Why haven't you been able to get hold of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar?
A.: We want to get them. It is on our agenda, an open letter. People know it. It is difficult to hunt down individuals in a country like ours that is vast, has too many villages and poor transportation. With no proper policing or intelligence structure it becomes a big problem. But we are looking for them and we should find them.

Q.: Warlords continue to hold sway in provinces and the movement to create a national army has been slow. Why can't you speed up its formation?
A.: There are things you can do immediately and those that take time. An army is one of those things that takes time. If you compare the situation now with six months ago it is much better now.

Q.: But the narcotics trade has revived and is thriving.
A.: We will work against it very, very strongly. We will be ruthless in our campaign against drugs. That is the only area where I am going to be ruthless. It is in direct contradiction to the national interest of Afghanistan, to our religious values. It only benefits those who are damaging Afghanistan. Trafficking in drugs goes hand in hand with terrorism. And the Afghan farmers don't benefit from it. The money goes to others. We only get a bad name.

Q.: What are the areas in which you have succeeded?
A.: The biggest success story in the past eight months has been the fulfilment on time of every aspect of the Bonn agreement, including the Loya Jirga. The second most important thing has been the return of over 1.5 million refugees in seven months. The third is Afghan children going to school. We estimate that there are three million children going to school. Also, on all the trips I have made in the country I have found an unbelievably solid and unified nation. The fact that Afghanistan is going on after so many years of disaster is a great thing.

Q.: Is Pakistan still interfering in Afghanistan's affairs?
A.: Well, Pakistan helped us during the years of jehad tremendously. It accepted over three million refugees with tremendous generosity. Of course, we also had difficulties. But Afghanistan wants to have good relations with all its neighbours and the region, India included. It will neither be party to any dispute, nor will it allow its territory to be used by any country or group against the interests of other nations.

Q.: What are the main challenges in the months ahead?
A.: Reconstruction. That's it. I want Afghanistan's highways to be rebuilt. I want the electricity infrastructure to be rebuilt. People are asking for that and we must give it.

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