U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Prague headquarters on April 5, sat down for an exclusive interview with Radio Free Afghanistan's Director Akbar Ayazi, during which she answered listeners' pre-recorded questions. Clinton argued for the rights of Afghan women, expressed her optimism for the future of the country, and stressed the administration's "enduring commitment to Afghanistan."
Akbar Ayazi: Madam Secretary, I am really honored and pleased. Thank you very much for coming to the studios of Radio Free Afghanistan. We are really honored. In the past 48 hours that we asked our listeners [to] solicit questions, we have received over 1,000 questions for you.
Of course they were from all over the world, including Pakistan and Iran. And this overwhelming response from our listeners shows how eager they are to talk to you, interact with you. So we have several representative questions for you. But before I go to the listeners' questions, Madam Secretary, I would like to get your reaction to the recent, controversial marital and family law in Afghanistan, in which even a husband can ban a wife from going to school, going to the doctor, and so on.
Hillary Clinton: First, let me say how pleased I am to be here with you. This is an important opportunity for me to speak directly to the people of Afghanistan. I know that this radio station is widely listened to, and it has a tremendous capacity to provide information and respond to questions -- as we are doing today -- from the people of Afghanistan.
I've been to Afghanistan three times. I have a great commitment to the future of this wonderful country, and obviously it matters deeply that we improve communications between -- not only our new government, the Obama administration, and the government of Afghanistan -- but between our people as well.
Specifically with request to your question on the new law, I was deeply concerned because I do not think it reflects the values of the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan. This was a law, as I understand it, that was aimed at a minority of a minority, and it does impose harsh restrictions on women and children.
I've expressed my concerns and objections about this law directly to President [Hamid] Karzai, and our president, President [Barack] Obama, has spoken about the fact [that] it truly is not in keeping with the direction that Afghanistan has been following.
I understand there are some constitutional and other difficulties with this law, so obviously I'm hoping that the leadership in Afghanistan will look carefully at it and determine that it is not in the best interest of the people, particularly the women and children of your country.
Ayazi: Thank you very much. Madam Secretary, among all the questions that were sent to us, the number-one concern was harm to civilians, including death, injury to women and children, the searching of Afghan homes, harassment of villagers, and detention of innocent people.
One listener from Kabul says that "these civilian casualties damage the international community but strengthen the opposition." I'll play the audio of this listener to you to see what he says. [Plays recording of male voice and translates:]
"I'm Doctor Samullah from Kabul. I would like to ask the secretary of state about last year's incident in which 110 innocent civilians died during the bombardment in the Shindand district [in the western Afghan province of Herat]. Among those civilians, one eight-year old girl was left without anybody, orphaned. What can you say about the future of this little girl?"
Clinton: Well, Doctor, first of all, I deeply regret the loss of civilian life. That is a tragedy whenever and however it occurs. And certainly, as a mother, my heart goes out to any child, like this little girl you describe, who finds herself without family, resources. And I hope in the year since this happened, she has found a safe place to live and to be brought up in.
Civilian casualties are something we are working very hard with the government of Afghanistan to prevent. Certainly since the tragic incident that you referred to, there have been changes in military actions and policy. This, however, is a result of the continuing violence perpetrated by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and their allies.
They launch suicide attacks; they have absolutely no regard for life of any kind; and we know that their continuing actions that disrupt and destroy the fabric of society throughout Afghanistan are ones that have to be stopped if Afghan people are to live in peace and security.
So, from our perspective, we want a peaceful, secure Afghanistan, as the people do. Therefore, ending the violence perpetrated by those who have extremist views, who are seeking power, who disregard the norms of society and religion is the goal. And we are cooperating closely with the Afghan National Army to try to limit our actions to those directly responsible.
I think, as any listener knows, unfortunately when you are responding to violence during a conflict, there will be all too often regrettable consequences with respect to civilians. So if those who are perpetrating this violence in the first instance were to stop -- that is what we are seeking -- then there would be an end to military action by the United States, our allies, and the Afghan National Army.
That is our hope. We hope with this new strategy that President Obama has outlined, we will be more successful in convincing members of the Taliban, other extremists that might not be 100 percent committed to the cause, to rejoin society, to be part of building a new, strong, secure Afghanistan, and to isolate those who are irreconcilable to defeat them. That is what we are intending to do.
Ayazi: Thank you for making a reference earlier to our Radio Free Afghanistan, known as Radio Azadi, that is one of the most popular, well-listened radios in the country. And it has listeners everywhere; even the Taliban listen to us.
Indeed, they occasionally call us and issue demands on air. The next question seems to be coming from a Taliban sympathizer, so: [plays recording of male voice and translates:]
"I'm Haji Habib from Kabul Province. First of all, thank you very much, Mrs. Clinton, for answering the questions of Afghans and Muslims through Radio Azadi/Radio Free Afghanistan. Thank you also for trying to understand and learn more about the problems of Afghanistan.
Secretary of State, during your election campaign, many Muslims had great expectations that your administration would win the minds and hearts of the Muslims. Muslims throughout the world had been very disappointed by the policies of the previous administration.
Yet now that your new administration is in place, you have decided to send even more troops to Afghanistan to kill more innocent Afghan children and women and to destroy their homes. What purpose can such a strategy have?"
Clinton: First of all, I'm very happy that so many people in Afghanistan, throughout the country and from every perspective politically are listening to Radio Free Afghanistan. We believe in free expression -- people exchanging ideas, even if they are disagreement. And we believe that that is the best way for any country to conduct its public business.
So it's very gratifying that this service is getting such a good response. I think that the changes that President Obama has already brought to our country are receiving a very positive response throughout the world, and particularly in the Muslim world. I know that in my travels -- I've been to several Islamic countries already -- the change that our administration has brought is very welcome.
And many Muslims see that President Obama and myself are listening, we respect the points of view of others, we are not attempting to dictate or order any particular action. And therefore there is a real open and honest dialogue among us. One of the reasons why I'm appearing on this radio program is to further such a dialogue within Afghanistan.
So I think that the early steps by President Obama have been very promising. With respect to why we are moving forward to send more troops, it is because we have such high respect for the people of Afghanistan. Our understanding in many ways is that the people of Afghanistan want what people everywhere want.
They want to be respected; they want to have an opportunity to raise their children in peace and security to make the decisions that are right for them. You know, a professor or a doctor living in Kabul may have a different attitude about what he wants out of life than a farmer living in the south.
But what the people of Afghanistan deserve is a future where their children can be educated, where women and children are given health care, and where people who wish to work and make a good income, have a job, where farmers can get back to their land to once again recreate the fruit basket that Afghanistan historically was.
And I think there is a rejection of the dictates of any one group. And I don't know whether the questioner is a member of the Taliban or not, but there is really no basis for the Taliban to be allied with foreign interests, to be allied with Al-Qaeda.
That is not the way of Afghanistan from everything my Afghan friends have told me. So I think that it's important to see our commitment to Afghanistan in the proper light. We don't wish to occupy Afghanistan; we do not wish to have permanent bases in Afghanistan; we do not wish to dictate to the Afghan people how they should determine their own future.
What we wish to do, in conjunction with the Afghan government and the Afghanistan National Army is to provide a space of safety and security for all people to live and conduct their business. Adding these additional troops along with more civilian workers focusing on areas that we've been advised were important for the people of Afghanistan, like agriculture, is a way for the United States and other countries to be committed to Afghanistan's future.
We have an enduring commitment to Afghanistan. But we do not expect to be there with troops; we expect to be there with the hand of friendship. But first we have to establish safety and security for the people.
Ayazi: Well, thank you. Many Afghans seem to very upset and frustrated with the corruption within the Afghan government and its ability to perform. We have a listener: [plays recording of female voice and translates:]
"Salam, I'm talking from Kabul and my regards to Radio Azadi employees, and I ask you not to censor my question to Mrs. Clinton. If Mrs. Clinton wants to solve the Afghan conflict, she needs to meet with the Afghan people -- and not the Afghan government -- to talk about their problems. This is because 80 percent of the government is made up of murderers, irresponsible people, smugglers, drug dealers, and dishonest people. In addition, Afghan women deserve economic and political support. But unfortunately they're not getting it."
Clinton: I agree with the questioner, and I am certainly grateful that this question was asked -- it was not censored in any way. I think corruption is a major problem in Afghanistan. And I have spoken out about it, President Obama has spoken out about it, our special representation [to Afghanistan and Pakistan], Richard Holbrooke, has spoken out about it.
And we're going to do all we can to take steps to try to prevent and eliminate corruption. It's a cancer. It eats away at the confidence and the trust of the people in their government. And we've said that to the government representatives, and we will continue to do everything we can to try to work with the people of Afghanistan to eliminate corruption.
The people of Afghanistan have suffered long enough -- they have suffered just terribly over the last 20 years. They deserve better. They deserve a government that will stand up for them, advocate for them, and be by their side to help shape a new future. That is particularly true for the women and children of Afghanistan. I have been to Afghanistan three times. Every time I've gone, I have met with people -- I have met with women, I have met with representatives of civil society, I have met with professionals and academics, I have met also with representatives of the Afghan people in the United States.
Just recently, at the announcement of the [U.S.] president's new strategy on Afghanistan, we had a number of business people from Afghanistan. So I have tried to reach out the people of Afghanistan. I do not confine my contacts to the government. But, of course, you also have to talk to the government and work with the government and try to improve and reform and change the government where that's necessary.
We are not supporting any candidate in the upcoming elections. We are adding some of the troops that are coming strictly for the purpose of providing security for this election, so the people of Afghanistan get to have a free, fair, and legitimate election. And I want to add just one more word about women.
I have been so impressed by the dignity, the beauty, the commitment of the women of Afghanistan. I don't know that I would have been strong enough to withstand what the women of Afghanistan have had to put up with under Soviet occupation, under the time of the warlords and the constant battles, under the time of the Taliban and the oppression of women.
But their spirits are strong. They deserve respect from the men in their families, they deserve opportunities and rights from their government, and they deserve to make choices for their own lives. So I'm hoping that we can do more to enable the women of Afghanistan to live with the dignity that they have so richly earned.
Ayazi: Thank you. Speaking of the new strategy, Madam Secretary: Our listeners asked many questions about the strategy, which was outlined by President Obama and you. Most have praised it -- and, of course, some have criticized it.
One listener who forgot to mention his name has a unique question. He neither criticizes it, nor praises the strategy: [plays recording of male voice and translates:]
"My question to Madam Hillary Clinton is as follows: What will happen if the new strategy fails?" I think the listener wants to know if there is a Plan B.
Clinton: Well, I thank the listener for that very pointed question because, of course, we expect the new strategy to succeed. But whether it succeeds or not depends upon the people of Afghanistan; it depends upon whether the people are ready for a new future; it depends upon whether the new recruits in the army and the new police officers who will be recruited are given the training and support they need by the population to provide security; it depends upon whether the government roots out corruption and commits to doing business in a positive way that's in the best interests of the people of Afghanistan; it depends upon whether those members of the Taliban who are not hard-core extremists recognize that they shouldn't be allied with foreign fighters and foreign interests who do not have the best interest of Afghanistan at heart -- they're merely using Afghanistan for other purposes.
And if everyone comes together, this new strategy will work. President Obama is very committed to it. You know, it's difficult for us to send our young soldiers to Afghanistan. They are a long way from home; they and their families don't want them to be there, but they understand that they are trying to help the people of Afghanistan. And we are very committed to the people.
The bravery and courage, the resilience and the spirit of the people of Afghanistan is highly admired in my country. And we are prepared to help you help yourselves. That's really what we see this as. We are not substituting for the commitment of the people of Afghanistan, we're supporting it. So this strategy will work if the people of Afghanistan want it to work. And we're going to do everything we can with our additional troops, with our additional aid workers, and trainers, and others to give you the skills and tools that you need to protect yourselves.
You live in a dangerous neighborhood, and we want Afghanistan to be sovereign, and free, independent, and strong to chart your own future, and we think this strategy provides the opportunity for us to be successful.