Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul on July 12 about the country's foreign policy challenges. The following are excerpts from a transcript of the president's interview, which was conducted by RFA director Akbar Ayazi.
RFE/RL: Are you satisfied with the overall situation now in Afghanistan, and if not, why?
Hamid Karzai: I am satisfied with some developments in Afghanistan, but I am wary of some of the problems. I am very happy that once again Afghanistan has become a home to all of the Afghans. And Afghans of all stripes can return and live in this home. I'm very happy that the people of Afghanistan have created their own new constitution. And the foundations for the new institutions have been laid.
I'm happy that roads are being built across Afghanistan. In our history, we've never had as many roads as the number built in the last four or five years. And many more are still being built. [We have made progress] in education and health care. In particular, the health-care conditions for our children are improving. We had a very high infant mortality rate. In Afghanistan, newborn children often would die very young. But now, every year at least 85,000 new born lives are saved -- and they have a chance to grow and live a normal life. So all of these things make me happy.
In addition, Afghanistan's flag now flies across the world and Afghanistan participates in global forums with dignity and honor. In the past, Afghanistan was not represented at such forums, or other people would manipulate its representation. Afghanistan now has a national treasure, and its national wealth is growing.
Despite all of these successes, we still haven't achieved what Afghans desire most, which is establishing security across the country. We have had successes against terrorism. But our struggle against terrorism is not over yet. In some cases, our neighbors are still able to continue with their cruel interference into Afghan affairs -- though Afghanistan has once again been recognized [as an independent country] and its flag flies as a symbol of an independent nation. But still, the interference goes on. Still, our children are hostages to these foreign agendas and are being used against their homeland. So these are the issues of primary concern to us. And we are striving hard to correct it.
RFE/RL: But Mr. President, as you said earlier, if foreign interference continues, then the achievements you outlined are not sustainable.
Karzai: We have to move ahead. What we cannot do is to stop our progress because of internal weaknesses or foreign interference. We cannot stop our journey. We have to stay on the path we have chosen. But there are a lot of hindrances. And we will continue to confront obstacles on this journey.
We have to continue to reach our destiny. Our destiny is to try and take Afghanistan to a point where it stands equal to other countries that are self-sufficient and live with dignity and honor. We will not leave this path. And I have no doubt that we will complete this journey. We will suffer and endure casualties and pain. But we must endure all of this and continue moving.
RFE/RL: You have pointed toward foreign interference, and most of it is usually attributed to Pakistan and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). People hope that with the change of the government in Pakistan, the situation in Afghanistan and the region will improve. But now, we are seeing that the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and similar conditions are prevailing across the border inside Pakistan. So what is the problem now?
Karzai: We have very good friendly relations with the new, democratically elected government in Pakistan. We always had very good, friendly relations with the Pakistani people. The Afghan nation will never forget the good things that the Pakistanis did for us during the long years of jihad [against the Soviet occupation] and when we were refugees in Pakistan. So we will always be grateful for their help and hospitality.
But in the meantime, there are people inside Pakistan -- in Pakistan's intelligence services and its military -- who for whatever reason do not want a stable and prosperous Afghanistan that has good, friendly relations with its neighbors. I hope that the current administration in Pakistan -- its respected prime minister -- are able to control these elements so that both countries can be at peace.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, as you described the interference by Pakistani intelligence and military -- some analysts say that they are doing it in order to make Afghanistan accept the Durand Line as an international border between the two countries. What is your opinion about this?
Karzai: This is an old issue. And Pakistan has been trying to do this during the past 60 years. When we began our jihad [against the Soviets in the early 1980s], Pakistan tried to weaken Afghanistan. They promoted elements [within the Afghan anti-Soviet resistance] that would work toward weakening Afghanistan. Unfortunately, some Afghan elements -- undoubtedly some Taliban leaders among them -- were trained in a way that they will help in achieving this Pakistani objective.
Governments can never resolve the Durand Line issue because it is an issue between two peoples. [The demarcation of this line] was an historical injustice, as it divided Afghanistan. Those Afghans who remain on the other side of the Durand Line never recognized this line [as a border]. And similarly, people on this side of the line also didn't recognize it. During the past 110 years -- or even longer than that -- the Afghan nation never recognized this line. So no government will be able to recognize it as a border on its own. So only the peoples on both sides of the line can decide whether to accept or reject it.
Therefore, the efforts of the Pakistani military and intelligence services to strong-arm Afghanistan into accepting this line [as an international border] by indulging in conspiracies will never be possible. First, no government will ever agree to doing so without the consent of the nation. Second, if any Afghan government or president does it on his own, then he has to face the wrath of the nation. So this is a futile attempt. The better way is that we should have friendship and promote fraternity. It will be better to become good neighbors. Afghanistan would never wish to see Pakistan weakened. We want friendship and fraternity between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But Afghanistan would never accept being weakened as a result of [Pakistan's backing of] the Taliban and other similar elements. We want friendship and fraternity. And people on both sides of the line can help us in reaching an amicable solution. Conspiracy, bombings, suicide attacks by the Taliban, and the sabotage of Afghan economic and political life can never impose a solution upon us. This will only further aggravate the situation.
RFE/RL: Security, survival, and self-help are important for any government. Pakistan might be able to promote instability in Afghanistan by undermining these pillars. But what must the Afghan government do to improve security, survival and self-help?
Karzai: The Afghan government has been trying to strengthen its institutions -- and to develop its economy, to promote patriotism. No country needs patriotism more than Afghanistan does because nobody in the world has endured as much suffering as Afghanistan. Over the past the 30 years, Afghanistan has been on the receiving end of [machinations] by regional powers. It was destroyed. Its school were bombed and its children were being killed. And it was humiliating.
But luckily, Afghanistan has a people that has collectively confronted foreign interference and has prevented this land from being wiped out altogether. Now this land needs development. And it is only possible through patriotism and by engaging in effective measures. So the secret of our development lies in creating and strengthening our national institutions and rebuilding our economy. And by also engaging in human development -- by promoting education and health care, and the welfare of our future generations. That's why schools in Afghanistan -- our teachers and clerics -- are being targeted. The most important asset of any nation is its educated citizens. So that is why it is very important for us to educate our children -- so we can stand on our own feet and nobody is able to undermine Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, you might be aware of the problems between one of our big neighbors -- Iran -- and the West, particularly the United States of America. Recently, the U.S. and Israel, in particular, have threatened to attack Iran because of its nuclear program. So what steps have you taken to prevent the negative fallout upon Afghanistan of such issues.
Karzai: Yes. We are always aware of these dangers. Since the early days of the transitional government [established in December 2001], Afghanistan has been lucky to be able to balance its relations with various competing powers. We have always deliberated with the American and Iranian governments. In some instances we have even been intermediaries between the two. We thank Iran for its understanding, and assistance to Afghanistan.
Similarly we are very grateful for the U.S. approach toward Afghanistan as it is our major ally and principal donor. We are also thankful that they have been accommodating, and have encouraged our bilateral relations with Iran as it is one of our most important neighbors.
I hope that the same level of understanding continues to prevail in both countries and Afghanistan never turns into a battleground for competing interests of any states. Afghanistan would never like that its soil be used against another country. And Afghanistan would like to remain Iran's good friend as a neighbor as we share a common language and religion. Similarly, Afghanistan wholeheartedly wants to remain a friend, ally and partner of America because this is in Afghanistan's best interest.