Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he has two demands before he'll sign a Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States and that he'll approve the document as soon as those demands are met -- despite saying earlier he would wait until his country's presidential election is completed in April 2014. RFE/RL's Akbar Ayazi sat down with Karzai in Kabul for an exclusive interview to discuss the Afghan president's views.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, you called a consultative Loya Jirga to consider the Bilateral Security Agreement negotiated with the United States. Now that the Jirga has concluded, are you happy with its recommendations and have you achieved what you intended to get from it?
Hamid Karzai: The Afghans now want to conclude an agreement with the United States, and the Loya Jirga has done well in backing it. We consider this agreement to be in the interests of Afghans. But our condition is to ensure the protection of Afghan homes. The Americans should stop attacks against Afghan homes. Another condition is peace in Afghanistan. If we don’t have peace, this agreement will turn into a disaster for Afghanistan instead of a blessing.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, the Loya Jirga has recommended adding 36 new clauses to the draft security agreement. One of the clauses recommends that you sign the agreement before the end of this year. The head of the Loya Jirga [former president Sibghatullah Mojadiddi] also demanded the same from you. So are you going to add these new clauses and sign the agreement before the end of 2013?
Karzai: I have demanded an end to all American attacks against Afghan homes and the beginning of a realistic peace process. Whenever the Americans meet these two demands of mine, I am ready to sign the agreement. And when these two demands are implemented, this agreement is in Afghanistan's interests. On the issue of elections, last night the U.S. national security adviser [Susan Rice] assured me that America is not going to interfere in the elections and that it wants the elections to be conducted on time. In addition, if possible, it wants to see the elections concluded in the first round and even if it goes into a second round [they are committed to back the process.] They have assured me about this. But I will see what happens.
RFE/RL: Are you saying that Susan Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, has assured you the United States will help in holding free and fair elections?
Karzai: I talked to the U.S. national security adviser about this and I explained to her the situation during the previous presidential election. I briefed her about how America and other Western nations interfered in the previous presidential election, how they delayed the election, how they maligned the first round ballot. Keeping in view that experience, and as the president of Afghanistan today, it is my duty not to allow foreigners to either malign Afghanistan's next presidential election or stretch the process so that they can manipulate it. She assured me that this time there will be no interference in our election. So for now, I have her assurance. But I am watching them to see whether they interfere in the election or not. And I will talk about it then.
RFE/RL: In your speech during the Loya Jirga, you demanded an end to operations or attacks against Afghan homes, help with conducting free and fair presidential elections, and support for a meaningful peace process. But it has been reported that in your talks with the U.S. national security adviser, you demanded the freeing of 17 prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. Is that true? What did you demand?
Karzai: This was a demand made by the jirga. If you look at the 29th clause of their recommendations, it says that America should release all Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo Bay immediately and hand them over to Afghanistan. So if the Americans want to implement the recommendations of the Loya Jirga, and one of the clauses that the Loya Jirga has recommended is an immediate signing of the security agreement, then they cannot ignore this other clause that demands the freeing of Afghan prisoners. Such things are not acceptable.
RFE/RL: In your view, why are the Americans insisting on signing this agreement soon?
Karzai: The Americans have their own agenda and their own plans. Whatever is behind their programs or their plans is up to them. But we Afghans need to have our own plans. We showed the Americans that Afghanistan wants friendship and an alliance with them. We are not against them. But in this friendship and alliance with the United States, the Afghans want to protect Afghanistan's interests. We don't want to stand against American interests. But we want to protect our homeland. And what are our homeland's interests? Our interest is to protect the homes of the Afghans from American attacks, night raids, and the unnecessary suffering of our people so that Afghan women and children are not forced to abandon their homes at night because of fears of American bombs and helicopters. You know well that in Afghanistan during the past few years people have taken their women and children to the mountains just to protect them from American attacks at night. It is impossible to have a security agreement with America while our people are still forced to leave their homes because of the fear of American forces. So if America wants to conclude a security agreement with us, America needs to respect the security of Afghan homes and let the Afghan children, men, and women live in their homes in security.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, after meeting you on November 25, Susan Rice said in an interview the United States is worried that after failing to convince you to sign the agreement, Washington may be prompted to plan the withdrawal of all of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. You also know that America is committed to spending billions of dollars on strengthening Afghan security forces and on security in Afghanistan. Are you ready to endanger this $8 billion or $9 billion in American aid?
Karzai: It is up to the Americans whether they want to stay or go. Even if we sign a thousand agreements with them, if it doesn't suit their interests they will leave -- just as they left Afghanistan alone in 1990s during the years after jihad. I was a deputy foreign minister then and I saw how the West abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. I used to go to them and ask them to leave one junior official behind in their embassy. But they closed their embassy and left. So if it is not in their interest, they will never come here. If America wants to be in Afghanistan today, it is because of their own interests --- whether it is security interests or their major economic interests. As an independent nation, we have the right to protect and promote our interests.
RFE/RL: In your last speech to the Loya Jirga, you elaborated on one issue very clearly. You said that peace in Afghanistan is in the hands of the United States and Pakistan. Can you elaborate on that?
Karzai: Based on many reasons and I can prove this, the ongoing war in Afghanistan is being imposed on us and Afghans are being sacrificed in it for someone else's interests. We are not blocking the interests of the United States or other major powers. But we are demanding that if you consider Afghanistan the place from which to advance your interests, then you should also pay attention to Afghanistan’s interests. We are not demanding anything else.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, are you saying that Pakistan and the United States are responsible for the current instability in Afghanistan? And can they do anything to stabilize the situation here?
Karzai: To a very large extent, they are responsible. The Afghan government also shares this responsibility. Our weaknesses and our mistakes are part of this failure. But, as you know well, all of the major terrorist havens are in Pakistan, and the United States has said that the terrorist sanctuaries are in Pakistan. The American newspapers have repeatedly reported that U.S. contracts strengthen some of the armed factions. So why are they giving these contracts out? Six or seven years ago, I had a strong disagreement with the United States over these private companies. Who were these private security firms and why was I against them? These security companies were all of those people who were supported by the Americans and trained by them and who were being given up to $2 billion a year. And they were employed to protect American supply convoys. But in reality, they were a major cause for insecurity.
RFE/RL: Do you think that the Afghan security forces are able to deal with the Taliban on their own?
Karzai: This is our responsibility. We are all Afghans and we know each other well. Whether we would fight the Taliban or make peace with them -- that is our problem. Last year, during my visit to Washington, in a very important briefing a day before I met U.S. President [Barack Obama], his national security adviser Tom Donilon, and senior White House officials, generals, and intelligence officials, the national security adviser met with me. He told me: "The Taliban are not our enemies and we don't want to fight them." I told him "This is a very good thing and this is what we want. We have been urging you for years to stop bombing people and fighting people inside of Afghanistan. So if you don't consider the Taliban your enemies and don't want to fight them, then why are you raiding Afghan homes every night? If you don’t consider the Taliban your enemies, which are something I want you to do and am happy you have recognized, then why are you going into Afghan homes in the name of looking for the Taliban every night?" My question is whether this will go on after the security agreement. This is why I can never allow it to happen. The security agreement should end American operations.
Interview conducted in Kabul by Akbar Ayazi, unit director of RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan and Radio Mashaal; translated from Pashto and Dari by Abubakar Siddique