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Hamid Karzai Speaks His Mind

What does Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai think about his country’s current state?

January 6, 2004

What does Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai think about his country's current state?

After much wrangling, Afghans agreed on a new constitution on January 4, 2004 — thus paving the way toward free elections this October. Much of this success is owed to the skill and drive of President Hamid Karzai, who had laid out his vision for Afghanistan in a September 2003 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. Our Read My Lips feature captures his views.

Has there been much progress in the country since the Taliban were ousted?

“Afghanistan has made significant progress. The reconstruction of Afghan highways has begun. We had plenty of rain last year, so we have lots of crops growing in Afghanistan, which is wheat and plenty of fruit. And actually, we had the best agricultural year for Afghanistan in 25 years.”

What are practical challenges ahead of the planned 2004 elections?

“This country is having elections for the first time in 30-35 years. We don’t have the mechanisms in place, we don’t have the manpower in place, we don’t have the technical know-how in place. We are working very, very hard, because we have promised the Afghan people that we will act.”

Why are human rights central to your country's constitution?

“I assure you in the strongest possible words that Afghanistan’s constitution will be one in strict, strict regard of human rights. You know why? We have suffered, we were victims. Victims always want their rights to be protected.”

How do you think the world should approach Iraq?

“From my experience, I would believe that the Iraqi people must have been fed up and sick with what Saddam Hussein was doing to them. I have a moral approach to international politics. Morality for me determines action — not these other things that the world capitals are talking about.”

In what sense is the situation in Iraq different from yours?

“The Iraqi people are among the most educated of the Muslim world. Somebody told me the other day they have 20,000 Ph.D.s. We don’t have 20,000 graduates in our country. What Iraq lacked was political leadership and a society that could be free.”

Despite its lack of resources, what else can Afghanistan build on?

“Afghanistan was a poor country to begin with, even before the Soviets came. But Afghanistan was culturally, historically a very strong country. There are strong traditional values in this country that keep it together.”

What can you say to those who believe there is still a lack of government rule in Afghanistan?

“The problem is not in the politics of things. The problem is in the inability of the Afghan government to provide effective administration, the inability of the service sector of the government. We are weak in human resources. We are weak in technical management. We cannot reach the country to provide proper administration and services — like a normal government would do. So that is at times interpreted as the lack of government and the influence of warlords.”

If unity is not the national problem, what is?

“The people are very united with very deep historical roots with each other. The reason that Afghanistan survived so many atrocities and interferences and invasions is because there was a nation. But this nation, by the consequences of war and interference, lost all its institutions — a bureaucracy, an army, a legal framework and the educated, the human resources of this country.”

Do you have any concerns about a "U.S. Empire"?

“I don’t think the United States is an imperial power. It doesn’t have that kind of a mindset. To be an imperial power you have to have lots of pomp and show. We dragged the United States into Afghanistan. Even now we are trying all sorts of tricks to keep them there.”

So Afghanistan is not a part of the so-called "American Empire?"

“History teaches something else. Afghan history teaches that Afghanistan is an empire breaker.”

How do you feel about al Qaeda forces regrouping along the southeastern border of Afghanistan?

“I would call on some of the clergy in Pakistan that a place of teaching religion must remain a place of teaching religion. It must not be turned into a ground for preaching hatred against other people or religions. The people that we have arrested recently have told us that they have been preached to in those madrassas, or so-called madrassas, hatred against Afghanistan. They’ve been told to go and attack road workers in Afghanistan.”