Afghan President Hamid Karzai has one of the toughest jobs in the world — and he’s held it for a decade. With NATO forces set to depart Afghanistan over the next couple of years, the pressure on Karzai is only going to increase. The question for his country — and for his legacy — is whether Karzai can finally step up. In an hour-long interview with TIME’s Aryn Baker at the presidential palace in Kabul, Karzai talks about his tumultuous relationship with the West, the troubled peace process with a resurgent Taliban and the coming transition of power in 2014. Following is the full transcript of Baker’s May 13 interview with the Afghan president:
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I am so sorry to hear about the assassination this morning of Arsala Rahmani.
A good man, a very good man.
Yes, he was someone I enjoyed meeting quite a bit. What do you think the assassination means?
This means somebody doesn’t want peace.
So what does this mean for the peace process?
The process will continue. We cannot abandon seeking peace. No society can abandon seeking peace, so the process will continue, this is something that we will continue, something we are willing to give more sacrifice for, something that the Afghans want and deserve and must have.
We have seen this assassination, and now both the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami have said that because you signed the security agreement with the United States that they have no choice but to pull out of reconciliation talks and continue jihad. Is this the end of the peace process?
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The partnership deal is one that we worked on with great dedication. We had certain conditions, that the U.S. finally met. And after having met those conditions which we considered important for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and to the Afghan people, we then entered into negotiations for the strategic partnership. Now the partnership itself, any partnership is a give and take. You take something and you give something. Afghanistan is a country in need. Afghanistan needs to protect itself in the region; Afghanistan needs to secure itself within the country. Afghanistan needs to develop its forces, and Afghanistan needs to provide stability to the people. Now this is what we need.
The United States has needs in this region. Whether for the war on terror or for other interests,which is something we are not aware of, whatever they might be. Now in this interest of the United States, and the interests that we have we have come together to bring something to Afghanistan, and give something to the other side. We have reached a good deal. The deal is in the interest of the Afghan people and the U.S. Just about the time that we finalized this deal with the United States, a delegation of Hizb-i-Islami came here and they met with me, and I talked to them about this partnership, and I asked them to go and see the document, and meet with the national security advisor, my chief of staff together, to explain the whole document to the Hizb-i-Islami delegation. They saw it and they said ‘this is great.’ And it was so good; they didn’t find anything for the United States in this document. So the question was ‘well, everything is here for us, what is in it for the United States?’ And I said, that is what we must do to answer and to find. There fore I am surprised tofind that they say it is not good, because the delegation, they more than liked it.
So what is behind this?
I don’t know.
Does this make your task of pursuing peace more difficult?
Not at all.
The two biggest insurgent groups have stood against this agreement.
It will happen.
You are a man of extreme confidence.
It will come out.
Last month Afghanistan and the United States agreed on a strategic partnership agreement that defines the relationship between the two countries after the foreign forces pull out in 2014. Many thorny issues remain, however. What else would you like to see in the post 2014 relationship that is not included in this document?
This document, in general terms, is good. It has taken into account what Afghanistan sees as its main interests. But this is preliminary document. Upon this will be built the security agreement. That it is where we will have a very difficult and serious negotiation. The United States will be asking for immunity. Where the U.S. will be asking for the use of our military facilities. Where Afghanistan will be dealing on both these issues, keeping the past ten years in mind.
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The question of immunity is particularly sticky. You have asked for limits on immunity for U.S. forces, why?
Well, if immunity means giving the ability to someone like the gentleman who killed people in Panjwai and Kandahar, or if immunity means bombardment of our villages, and getting immunity for that, that the Afghan people will not accept, that will be extremely difficult for the Afghan people to accept. And I hope the United States will understand.
[Interrupts to offer coffee, water and tea.]
So that will be very difficult. But we are willing to negotiate with the United Sates, where the U.S. will understand the Afghan circumstances, and respect the lives and values of the Afghan people and whereby most important question here, especially after the signing of the partnership agreement is that the Afghan people have told me clearly when I began to consult with them on the partnership agreement two years ago, they repeatedly and at all the meetings, they said, ‘President, sign the partnership with America, so peace can come to Afghanistan.’ So they have signed the partnership with the United States, for the hope, in the hope that Peace will come to Afghanistan, and that stability will come with it, and that the Afghan life and property will not be violated. So for us it was not only a document towards the future, it was also a document that turned a new page in relations between us and the United States, a new page in which theprevious page is gone, and we don’t want to look at it anymore. And the new page is where no raids on Afghan homes will be conducted, no Afghans will be arrested, no violation of Afghan homes will take place, no bombardment of Afghan villages will take place, for we have already and for years have said that the war on terror is not in the Afghan villages and towns. From that perspective we have signed it, and if that is fulfilled, the next stage of the security agreement will be easy. If that is not done, then the people have no reason to go into a security agreement.
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You have made clear your stance on air strikes, yet NATO strikes have mistakenly killed several civilians in the past two weeks. How has this affected relations?
It is a serious issue. I have raised it with the U.S. government and NATO. Its something we take extremely seriously, and it is something wewill be talking about to the NATO leaders in Chicago.
You said at the time that if it happens again Afghans may have to reconsider the security agreement.
Of course. What is the partnership for? What are the Afghan objectives of a partnership with the United States? Well, it has negatives for us too. Neighbors don’t like it; the region doesn’t like it. We will be paying a price for this.
And the insurgent groups don’t like it.
Well the insurgent groups are mostly related to the neighbors. But the neighbors…in any case the neighbors don’t like it and the region doesn’t like it and we are falling into a rivalry which isn’t ours and which we can’t pay for. Therefor what is it in this partnership that Afghans will get, that they are seeking, knowing that all the neighbors don’t like it. It is the security of Afghanistan, the return of peace to Afghanistan, and it is the build up of the Afghan state structure. The institutions of state governance, the military, the police, and the assistance that it should bring to Afghanistan. Which is what this agreement should bring.
Do you have a number of foreign troops you would like to see?
Well the number of troops is not so much an issue. Of course the bulk of the current troop…the troops will all leave Afghanistan by 2014. So after that as a result of the agreement, if there are 10,000 or 15,000 or more or less is something that the U.S. has to decide. But the partnership that we signed, also addresses that. The security agreement would address the scope, the responsibilities, the obligations and the hows and wheres of thesecurity arrangements.
What do you think would be ideal for Afghanistan, in terms of numbers. If you had your wish?
Well we of course would like to have a security agreement that completely respects the sensitivities of the Afghan people and Afghan laws, and is not seen by the Afghan people in any way as reducing from their sovereignty or their well being, and that it provides good guarantees to the region and neighbors that Afghanistan will not be used against them.
But that is what you have already. So going forward in terms of concrete commitments, what would you like to see in the next step?
Well, clear support to the Afghan forces. We have a force of 350,000 right now, but its more a ground force. Without the tools of a modern military. We must have aircraft, our radars, we must have our…all other necessities for a good army met. And Police. And our economy must grow well, and the conditions that I had earlier, the security.
You want the Americans to assist with the delivery of air force, radar and economic assistance?
We must be a properly equipped country.
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And you want the Americans to assist you with this?
The Americans and others. Because when the Soviets left we had an air force of nearly 450 planes, and a formidable arrangement of armored vehicles, and mechanized and tank divisions, and all other, you know, equipment for the army and armed forces. Unfortunately they were all destroyed in our internal upheavals.
And used against the Afghan people.
Unfortunately, yes. Used against our own people.
So how would you explain to an American public suffering its own economic upheavals, that they should be spending their money on Afghanistan’s army?
Well, it’s in America’s interest. If the United States has an interest in this region, and on the war on terror, and if in that Afghanistan is important, then they have to build it for us. Its not…it’s up to them. We are not forcing the U.S. to do this. The Americans are asking us for something, and we are asking for something in return. It’s a give and take. Its not a matter of the United States helping us, it’s a matter of we give something, they give something in return.
So you are giving them…?
We are giving them security, our facilities, the use of parts of our installations, and in return they are giving us A, B, C and D.
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When you speak of American security interests, the priority is on preventing al Qaeda from finding a safe haven once again, coming back to Afghanistan.
They don’t want terrorism, they don’t want al Qaeda coming back, they want a region that’s good for them, all of those things are what the U.S. is seeking here.
But the insurgency is not using aircraft, so why would the Afghan military need air force?
We don’t need a military to tackle the insurgency at all. If this is even an insurgency. By the way, we have a problem of definition. I never call it an insurgency. I call it terrorism. The west has begun to call it terrorism, in the media and in their official language. We never call it an insurgency, this is terrorism. If it is an insurgency, then it is an Afghan problem and an outsider has nothing to do with it. In that case an outsider is taking a gun against one Afghan for another Afghan, and that is interference. So if it’s an insurgency, I would not seek any U.S. assistance. I would rather be against such a U.S. presence in Afghanistan on such assistance. If it is terrorism, if it is war on terror, then the Afghan people will join you on terror. But the war on terror as I have repeatedly said in the past, and the Afghan people believe in it, in truth, is that the war on terror is not in the Afghan villages or homes. Its in the sanctuaries, it is in the training grounds, its in the motivation factors and the money that comes to it. So that definition has to be…in other words, we distinguish it as such.
The sanctuaries. Do you see Pakistan as an ally or an enemy at this point?
I would not use the word enemy, I have never used the word enemy. I don’t find it easy to use such words. I would never call a neighbor an enemy. But I would request the neighbor to be a good neighbor, to see that the neighbor’s interest is a stable prosperous neighbor, a neighbor that is doing well. Therefore I would continue with my pursuit of a friendly neighborly strong relationshiptowards which we have taken some very fundamentally strong steps, the number of phases from both countries, the number of pledges from both countries, some where a delivery has been made, elsewhere where they have not been made, and it is the elsewhere that is the war on terror. An effective war on terror that has not been done, and we must do it together. The other point is for both of us to seek to bring the reconcilable in this process to reconciliation, to peace and Afghanistan should help Pakistan do it in their own territory, and Pakistan I hope will help us do it in our own territory.
The United States has often complained that Pakistan is not doing enough to fight terror on its own territory.
I agree. They could do a lot more. Look, this is very clear.
You have had reconciliation with the Taliban a key goal of your time left in office. Do you think it issomething possible to achieve in the 2 years you have left?
Well, I will keep trying to the last day of my tenure in office. Whether we achieve it or not is a different question. It is something that is good, that you must work for. If you achieve it, great. Happy. If you don’t then let the next president continue the work.
So how long do you think it would take?
Well I would want it today, but if it is not possible today, then I would want it tomorrow, then the day after tomorrow, then next week. So I will continue to work for the peace process by all the means that I have, by all the power that I have, by all the persuasion that I have, and get it done with and I would hope also that the United states and our other allies and our neighbors will be sincere intheir work for the peace process for them and for us.
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Given this morning’s assassination, Rabbani’s, the others, the terrorism, the IEDs, the numbers of casualties, do you think its more important to defeat the Taliban or to attempt to bring them to the table?
Defeat where? I have said…Command and control centers in the sanctuaries, defeat them. Fighting them in Afghanistan is not defeating them. It is adding to the fire. Because…unless you address thesanctuaries, it will not help. But there are other aspects to this. There are some Taliban who…or some individuals, I like to put it that way, who are ideologically against Afghanistan’s vision for the future. And for today. There are some Taliban who are with al Qaeda, who are with terrorist networks, in the grips of foreign intelligence agencies, who we cannot reconcile or who would not come to reconcile with us and withwhom we are not seeking reconciliation. But there are other Taliban, who have been driven out of their homes, by the mistakes of NATO and American forces and by the mistakes of the Afghan government. Their homes were violated, they were driven out of their homes, they were forced to flee against their own country and take a gun against their own people. Those Taliban are not the enemies of their own people, they are Afghans like any Afghans, and they are welcome to come back and that is who we are trying to bring back. And there are thousands of Taliban in the Afghan villages who are driven by these factors who should be brought back to Afghanistan. Night raids, what a terrible thing in this country, that drove so many people out of desperation to take up guns against their own country, their own people. That is what I am talking about when I say reconciliation, and that is what we should be seeking.
Some initial discussions about starting talks have stalled recently over the reluctance to release these 5 detainees from Guantanamo bay. How important is the transfer of those detainees is to the current state of negotiations?
Hmm. Takes sip of coffee. Now…we sent a delegation to Guantanamo to meet with those prisoners. We asked them that whether they were willing to go to Qatar as part of a deal. They said they were willing to go to Qatar. Not as prisoners but as people who would go to Qatar to rejoin theirfamilies. That we support. If those five prisoners are willing to go to Qatar out of their own decision and will, we will back this, and we support this and we have done it. And we have communicated to the U.S. government as well. So this is good for the process and we should support it. There are also about 20 more Afghans there. Who are innocent, to the extent that we know, and whose release we are seeking from Guantanamo back to Afghanistan. Therefore we are in support of any release of those in Guantanamo back to Afghanistan or back where they are willing to go.
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Do you think it will help the peace process?
Yes it will.
Well it just gives an indication of a willingness to engage in the peace process. So far that indication is not coming.
From the U.S.?
So to your knowledge, what is holding the U.S. up?
I have no idea.
Have you been putting pressure on the U.S. to release these five prisoners?
Yes, we have been doing that.
And the response has been?
Not positive at all.
Can the process continue without the release of these detainees?
As far as Afghanistan is concerned the process will continue by all means.
But this stall or slow things down?
It doesn’t slow things for us. No we will continue to work for the peace process as we have, and we will continue to seek the release of these prisoners in Guantanamo and also the ones who are in Bagram, up to the time where the transfer is completed to Afghanistan. After that is the Afghan law that will take over.
The Taliban I speak with, tell me that they want nothing to do with the Afghan government. They feel that the power is with the U.S., and that they must negotiate first with the Americans. Are you being sidelined?
Well, they are talking to us.
But they say they are not. Why do they say they are not talking to you.
They are talking to us. I don’t know why they say they are not.
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Is it propaganda, does it undermine their credibility to be seen talking to you?
No, they look good if they are seen talking to us.
So why do they deny it?
Probably you have not asked the right people. Those who talk to us will tell you that they are talking to us. The press is talking to some spokesman.
TIME is talking to more than just Zabiullah Mujahid, we are also talking to commanders on both sides of the border.
Well they are talking to us. They have spoken to us in Dubai, in Qatar. They also talk to us in Kabul.
Do you see a split, between some Taliban who want to reconcile, and some who do not?
I have met some of them myself. Those who meet with us, or those who have met with us, or the ones who very much want to have peace come back to their country. Look, they are suffering. They are suffering in Pakistan. They are being put in prison. When they are not following the Pakistani line. And some of them are not suffering in Pakistan because they follow the Pakistani line. But the patriotic ones are around, and they are suffering.
How do you see the end state of reconciliation? Power sharing? Entering political office? Ministries? Regional control?
Afghanistan has a constitution. And the constitution is democratic. There are elections of Parliament, for president. Those Taliban who want to come back and accept the Afghan constitutions, they have the right to stand for president, they have the right to stand for parliament, they have the right to stand for provincial councils as well. Nobody can stop them from that. Those who want to be part of the government, they are welcome, there are people who are from Hizb-i-Islami who are part of this government, there are people from Jebet-i-islami who are part of this government. There are people from Sharal i-waazin, Hizbi-wadat who are part of this government. There are Afghan Millat, and the former communists, the Khalkh and Parchama who are part of this government. So can be the Taliban. Why not?
Do they see it as defeat if they have to accept the government and the constitution? Because they say they don’t believe in either.
They have never told us that. Really, never, have they discussed the constitution with us. They have discussed the Americans with us. They have discussed the atrocities with us. They have discussed the civilian casualties. They have never discussed the constitution.
So the constitution is not a problem for them?
Not to those to whom we are speaking.
Now, going on. The next two years before the withdrawal, before the elections. They will pass quickly. There is great anxiety about what happens next. What do you want your legacy to be at the end of your term? At the end of the American and NATO withdrawal?
Well, in a way my legacy is already set. For me the greatest of my achievements would be that Afghanistan became the home of all Afghans. From all walks of life, from all political tendencies, from all parts of the country. They came back to Afghanistan and they found a place here to take the opportunity of life. The…the brutal side of governance in Afghanistan I have struggled to contain. Not that I have been able to abolish completely. But I have struggled against it. No Afghan has gone to prison for his or her political views. Never. The country’s education has flourished like never before. The thousands and thousands of Afghan boys and girls that have been able to go to universities inside and outside the country. The country’s return to the world community from a miserable isolation. To now having representation all over the world, at meetings and conferences. A better economy. A better living standard. But yes, one of the greatest shortcomings that I will remember painfully is that peace did not come to the Afghan people the way they wanted. Security did not come to the Afghan people the way they deserved, the way they wanted it. Short of that, the rest is good.
You mentioned briefly, Do you think the U.S. has the best interests of Afghanistan in the way it pursues its military solution in the country, or is it making more problems than it is solving?
This is very important question. It’s a question that I have thought about so often and so many times. And a question of which…serious tensions have emerged between the U.S. and the Afghans, almost to the point of saying goodbye.
Worse than that even. So I don’t have a good view. No.
In its time here the United States could have done a lot better for Afghanistan. The Afghan people for the first time in their history welcomed a foreign force. Never in the history of the Afghan people have they welcomed a foreign force. I was a witness to that myself. So were you. We called them liberators. But then they did not regard the homes of Afghan villagers as homes that gave the United States and NATO a welcome. And in the name in the War on Terror, which everybody knew was to be fought elsewhere, too many innocent Afghans lost their lives. Too many were wounded, too many homes were violated. When…as the president of Afghanistan, and as an Afghan citizen, it was my job to protect the Afghan people, it was my job to do all I could to bring safety to Afghan homes, just like the U.S. president’s job is to bring security to the American homes. We were not anti-American. We are notanti-American. We are rather pro-American. But I have to protect Afghan homes. The U.S. media understood it as Afghan belligerence. Or opposition to the U.S. It was opposition to a method applied to Afghanistan. And that had to improve. And I am willing to do a lot more in order to bring to Afghan life a safety andsecurity interpretation they deserve.
You mean you are defending Afghanistan in this way?
Do you think that over the past decade the Americans have done more harm than good?
Well, the Americans have done well by providing us the opportunity to educate our children. By providing us the opportunity to bring us better health care, by helping us reach our ambitions world wide for Afghanistan to be once again a member of the world community and in a great way. For doing lots of other good things in Afghanistan, like building roads for us, building a better economy. But the American presence and the NATO presence in Afghanistan did not bring security to the Afghan people. As they deserved it. It did not bring the defeat of terrorism, as we thought it would. It did not fight the war in terrorism in a manner that wefelt was right. It was fought against our own will, against our own advice. But the American presence did bring an overall stability to Afghanistan which is very important.
Were the lives of American, NATO and Afghan soldiers wasted?
The…well I…see…I can’t ever say that a life is wasted. The…it could have been done in a matter where there would have been less casualties of our U.S. and NATO allies and less damage and suffering for the Afghan people. But the overall stability in Afghanistan is established. That is a very good thing. That is why the Afghan view is still seeking the U.S. presence, but in another form. The answer to your question has to be explained in a context. Some things were good, some things were not good.
I am sure you have heard reports that U.S. has been using Hizb-i-Islami forces against the Taliban. What is your reaction?
I have only seen the Washington Post story. I am not aware of things like that. But it’s not…it can’t be unusual. It’s not something that would surprise me. Now to judge it is a different issue. I am not trying to judge it here. As something that may have been done by the U.S., it is not impossible. They could have done it. We also have reports that they are supplying the Taliban from time to time. Those reports are there. But to judge it is a different issue. And this time, since I don’t have solid information that I know of…the things I have spoken about t in Afghanistan for the past ten years and have done so often are things I know of for a fact, and I don’t take government reports as the basis of my knowledge and information. I call the people directly, I speak to them. And they tell me ‘yes president’ this has happened and this has not. Even in the recent bombardment of civilians in Helmand and Badghis and Logar and Kapisa, I first called the governors. And once I got to know more that I would further, especially in Helmand and Badghis where there were high casualties, I called the district chiefs, and from the district chiefs I went to the families. I telephoned them and spoke to them and got the facts that they had.
You learned that way about the death of the mother by an air attack last week?
A mother and her five children. And in Bagdhis, eight people killed.
You threatened, when that happened, you threatened the U.S. ambassador to bring up such incidents to the UN Security Council.
Well, if they are repeated, sure.
Does it not seem inevitable that in the course of war, that this will continue to happen?
There is no war. I don’t think there is a war. There is no war. There is no war in Afghanistan. There is no war in Afghanistan. If this is a campaign against terrorism, then it has to be addressed where it, where it , where it rises. It is not in Afghanistan.
Do you think the U.S. should be fighting in Pakistan then?
I don’t say that. I don’t think the U.S. should be fighting Pakistan. But I think all of us should work honestly. And with sincerity. Towards a common objective. If terrorism is a threat to all of us, and indeed it is a threat to Pakistan as well, massively a threat to Pakistan. Massively a threat to Pakistan.
Do you think Pakistanis see it that way?
I think they do. I think they do. I think they do. A great many of them do. If this is a threat to all of us, then we all must join hands to fight it together. The United States has to prove its sincerity in the war on terror to Pakistan, to Afghanistan and to others. And this is what I have been telling Americans for a long time now. And we have to prove to Pakistan that we will be of no danger to them. And Pakistan has to prove itself to us as well, and to the Americans. So it’s an all rounder. We all have to make sure that the other side understands us better, that our motivations are understood, that our purposes are clear and understood, and that we work towards the same objective. This has not been the case unfortunately, either because of the incidents that darkens the environment, or for whatever reasons. So there has to be a sincere, clear, effort.
There are conflicting assessments of how strong the Taliban is at this point as a moment. Military and Ambassadors say that they are a declining threat, they are weakened divided and split. Then we have American intelligence that says they are getting stronger, they have shadowgovernors in most provinces and that they could pose a threat to the Afghan government in the future. What is your assessment of their strengths?
No. No. Look, now there is a lot in the Western press about the Taliban coming back and all that. If you asked me three years ago, I would have not answered you in the positive. I would have said ‘I don’t know’, or ‘you are probably right’, or somewhere in between. But now I can tell you withconfidence, ma’am, that the Taliban as a force to threaten the government of Afghanistan, or the way of life we have chosen is no longer there. That the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan will not lead to the Taliban coming back. That rather when that happens the Afghan people will be more effective in their fight against terrorists that come to Afghanistan. That in the absence of the international forces, the Afghan people will be more effectively defending their country and the Afghan forces will be more effectively campaigning for their own security. So I have no worry about that.
Well if the incidents of terrorism increase of decrease is a different question. If you are talking about the Taliban as a movement coming to take over, no. But incidents of terrorism, that is something that we all have to be concerned about and which might increase, which is not so much the Taliban, the traditional Taliban, but more other factors than the traditional Taliban. So no, I am not concerned about that.
But that brings us to another question. Eventually it’s the Afghan people and what they do that will determine the future of Afghanistan. If we as a nation take the right decisions, move in the right direction, do the right thing, and establish a government that is in the service of the Afghan people, we would not at all be damageable as a system as a constitutional body. But if…and this has been a struggle for me, this has been a struggle for me…if the Afghan people see that their own government is violating their homes, that there is any illegitimate use of force, and that the constitution of Afghanistan, the laws of Afghanistan and the security and safety and dignity of the Afghan people is not taken care of, then of course I as an Afghan too would not tolerate and do all I can to bring me safety and security.
Do you feel as if the West is with you or against you?
As an individual, or a country?
You as an individual.
Well the West has been against me, clearly. For the stance that I had, and regardless of whether I am liked or disliked by elements in the West, or all of the governments there, or some of the elements or individuals there, my job is for Afghanistan. I have been doing all I can for Afghanistan, so just like the U.S. president has the right, and he should protect the life of the American people. See if you hear President Obama, he always goes to the American people and says that he has committed these American troops to Afghanistan in order to bring safety and security to American people. It’s the American people for President Obama. It’s the Afghan people for Hamid Karzai. That’s as simple as it is. It’s the Afghan people that I am working for. And in order to bring protection and security to the Afghan people I am willing to take wrath from all over the world.
What about from within your own government? Last week your finance minister, Omar Zakhilwal was complaining in a press conference that your government has done nothing to stop corruption.
That’s a different thing.
He said, “Up until now, anti-corruption efforts have been made only to satisfy donors; it’s not enough.”
Well, he’s right about that.
That the moves you have made so far are only to satisfy donors?
In the sense that the corruption thing is more a donor drama. It is less a concern about corruption in Afghanistan, as it is true. There is corruption in Afghanistan, no doubt, and more and more of the Afghan people come and tell me. More and more of the Afghan people come and tell me that there is corruption in Afghanistan on account of the Afghan government, and the prevailing environment, and also on account of a mess of the way money has been spent by donors in Afghanistan. The contracts given to people, the way contracts are used to leverage the Afghan government officials and parliamentarians, and the way that feeds into more corruption in Afghanistan, and one we have discussed before. I don’t want to continue with something we have discussed before. I have very particular feelings about that.
You are announcing the transfer of responsibly to Afghan security forces, 75% of the population, and all provincial capitals will betransferred to the care of the Afghan Security Forces.
Yes, it has been announced.
That is much faster progress than originally anticipated.
That’s good for us.
So at this rate when do you think Afghan forces will take the lead countrywide?
Beginning or end?
Around the middle, towards the end.
Does that mean the foreign forces can withdraw early?
They can withdraw early, yes. As far as we are concerned, yes.
Do you want them to? Before the original deadline?
Yes. If they can, yes.
It’s good for us. Good for us and good for them. Good for us and good for them. Good for us because it’s our country and we must defend it. Good for them because I don’t want anymore international forces’ lives lost in Afghanistan. I don’t want their money spent in Afghanistan when the things they are doing we can do. So when we can do something, why should we have ayoung boy or girl from Germany or Netherlands, or the United States or France go through the trauma or endanger her or his life. Therefore it’s good for our international partners, its good for us. With the right partnership, with the right support to Afghanistan, it’s good for all of us. Good for them and good for us.
So will you ask them to leave early?
We will not ask them to leave early. If everything is done in time, and they want to leave early, we will welcome it. I mean if everything is done before time.
As I am sure you are aware, yet another man in Afghan army uniform killed an American soldier and trainer this week. There was another attack yesterday. There have been some 22 so-called green-on-blue incidents this year, and 35 last year. Do you think American and NATO soldiers should continue training Afghan troops with this kind of threat?
The training I think when the whole context of operations changes the threat will recede.
Well, now look, I don’t think it’s advisable that I talk about this, because there are reasons for this. And I have discussed this with NATO officials, and it’s probably not advisable for me to say any more about it. I hope you understand that.
Ok, but you only get one pass.
The Afghan security forces, particularly the police and the auxiliary have been accused of flouting the law, misusing their positions, and in some cases pretty gruesome human rights abuses. Does thisstrengthen the Taliban’s assertion that these government forces are working against the people of Afghanistan?
Well the Taliban cannot claim a thing like that. The Taliban have been unfortunately hurting so many innocent Afghans, burning schools, destroying homes, and committingunbelievable atrocities against the Afghan people in the name of fighting Americans. So they cannot come to us to claim the higher ground. But, with or without the Taliban, with or without the Taliban the Afghans suffered massively. So Afghanistan, has suffered as I have said before, at the hands of foreign forces and from their own government for 30 years now, beginning with the soviets till today. And an Afghanistan where the government has militias to intimidate people will never be a peaceful Afghanistan. Therefore this is an extremely important question for me personally. I took a gun against the Soviet Union and their puppets because I had to, because oftheir atrocities. I stood against the United States because of what I believe were atrocities. And I will stand against any authority in Afghanistan, and within the Afghan government as well. On this. It’s my job. And I don’t know if they have told you, I almost have a daily reminder to them. Almost a daily reminder to them, to Afghan intelligence, to Afghan army to Afghan police, that our job is to protect the Afghan people and not to hurt them. So I am strongly strongly strongly as a human being committed to this. And there are incidents of this kind, no doubt, and that is one of our struggles. Afghan homes are still not secure. Any home can be violated.
By the Afghan security forces, or foreign forces?
By both the foreigners and the Afghans. It’s happening, unfortunately.
And are you able to prosecute them?
Oh yes, we can. We absolutely prosecute them and bring them to justice, but this is an uphill struggle. It’s a massive thing for us, Massive and important and difficult as well. Some thing I am aware of, and something I have been working on from the very first day with success but not with satisfaction. With success but not with satisfaction.
The Afghan constitution prevents you from running for a third term.
Do you feel that you will have met your goals by the time you step down in 2014?
No. There is plenty that I would have wished I could have done that I have not been able to do.
Do you regret not being able to run again?
No, not at all. No, I think two terms is a very long time. You need fresh energy, you need fresh thinking, someone with more…untested ideas should come forward and build on what we could not improve upon. The western press is full of stories, though, about my trying to seek a third term.
But the constitution won’t allow it.
But they say the President will try this or that, to stay on. It’s fictional.
Ok, well, would you? Would you try to stay in power or extend your term?
Not under any circumstances, not even if the people asked you to stay on past the end of your term? You will not stay on past 2014?
No. Not at all. Because beyond that I will be illegitimate. And beyond that if I tried to do anything it will not help Afghanistan, it will hurt it forever. I don’t want to be the president of Afghanistan one day beyond my term.
The term that ends in 2014.
Exactly, any longer than that will be illegitimate.
Now the strategic document has an interesting clause that says the elections must be free of foreign and government interference. What are you concerned about?
Yes. I had to put this in with a lot of persuasion. I had to ask the U.S. government to put in that line about external interference, because the last elections were intervened, with very…they were actually rigged by foreign embassies and governments.
Not very effectively it seems.
Well, they tried, but they did it badly. But the did damage our elections. They did damage the reputation of our elections. They did damage the legitimacy of the process at that time. That makes me think as to what their intention is in this country. That is why we are so careful now. That is why we are so suspicious, that is why we are turning every stone to find out if there is something else in the corner waiting for us, of that nature. That was the terminal mistake on the part of all of those Western governments, they did not respect democracy, they did not respect the vote of the Afghan people and the scope of democracy issomething that people see with suspicion because of that election. And it was with that in mind that I insisted that the question of interference in the next elections should also be in the strategic partnership document.
Then do you think that elections can be held while foreign forces are still in the country? With out interference.
They can be held, yes. That might provide grounds for interference, but that is why I put in the clause there that it should be avoided, and wewill make sure that it is avoided.
There are many who say one of your failings of apresident is bringing the dead warlords back to life. Giving them power andposition in government instead of rule of law. What is your response?
Is that true? I wasn’t in Bonn when they made that arrangement in 2001. I was in the mountains of central Afghanistan, in Uruzgan. So I had no hand in forming the government. I was myself picked up by that group to be heading the government. I didn’t give millions of dollars to the mujahidin who then became strongmen in areas of the country. The U.S. did. The Europeans did. We didn’t do that. Second, there are people that when they…when Dostum talks to me, the New York Times and the Washington Post and even Time Magazine dubbed them as warlords. When they go to meet with U.S. congress people to meet in Berlin, they are called allies and whatever, liberators of Afghanistan. So there is a serious question of credibility indeed in the Western application of standards. When you like someone he is a liberator and a great guy, and when that doesn’t suit the objective, he is termed a warlord. I needed to bring this country out of factional fighting, out of ideological conflicts, out of people grabbing power by force and by intimidation into a country that all joined hands to do well. And this has worked well. We have gone from 10 years from a country where people were at each others throats — when I say people, I don’t mean people, I mean factions, the powerful ones — to now all of them sitting together in parliament. To them working for Afghanistan. So it has helped.
So you have to give these guys positions in government to keep them from erupting into fighting again?
No, its not to keep them from fighting each other, but to help them build this country, and they now all have a stake in a good Afghanistan, for themselves and for the country. And I hope it will continue as it is, that the next president will make his own cabinet and decide his own way, but I am sure that whatever he will do will be with an eye on the overall stability of the country.
Do you have anyone in mind of who that next person could be?
I am thinking of some people, I have met with some people on this question, and I am busy working on this question, this is one of my jobs, one of my perhaps most important responsibilities.
So you are already working on finding a successor?
Very very much. I must find someone that will be an Afghan, will be a patriot, will be good to the Afghan people and tough with our Allies, good to the Afghan people and kind to the Afghan people and tough with our allies, that will not be vindictiveagainst the Afghan people or against those that, who are against the press, or…who will take the country forward…who will have relative security…who will not be against all that I have done.
Who have you found?
Well, it’s a bit premature to say. Maybe I can say in a year from now.
What will you do once your term does end? Will you remain in politics?
I will be an Afghan citizen, and stay in Afghanistan. Not a political person.
You don’t want to stay in politics?
I never was in politics by the way.
You are the president of Afghanistan, how is that not in politics?
Politics is…that’s not politics. I would not be…if you, if you, if you mean by politics someone who tries to have issues raised and issues created and to be involved, no. I’ll be an ex-president of Afghanistan, where if I can work as a citizen for furthering the stability and well being of the Afghan people I will continue to do that. If I am asked for advice for things, by the then president I will be willing and honored to give that advice. But I won’t be an interventionist. If by political, you mean interventionist, no, I will not do that. I will support the president. I know what it takes to be the president of Afghanistan in these conditions. I know thepressures on the president. It will be much less than what it is today, but I will understand his environment, and from that background that I have gained, I will be a great supporter of the president, and I will advise people to make his life easier and to help him.
What will you do with your time? Golf?
Golf, sure. Or horse riding. Or mountain walking, or just walking around the city. Those will be…I miss that terribly.
When was the last time you walked in the city?
Almost seven years ago. Almost seven years ago in the city of Kabul. I used to do that. That is what I will have to do again.
Thank you, Mr. President.
All the best.