Hamid Karzai: «The United States behaves in Afghanistan like a colonial power»
In a interview with Le Monde, afghan president, Hamid Karzai, blames the United States for acting like a "colonial power" in the way it "pressures" Kabul to sign a security agreement. This accord is meant to provide military assistance to Afghanistan after 2014. M. Karzai says he is not ready to sign it unless certain conditions are met.
While the United States and its Nato allies have started to pull out from Afghanistan, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the bilateral security agreement (BSA) your government and the USA agreed to on November 20th. Why won't you sign this agreement which is meant to provide military assistance to Afghanistan after 2014?
My position has not changed for the past 8 years: the war on terror can't be fought and must not be fought in Afghan villages, in Afghan homes. If there is a war on terror, it has to be taken to the terrorist sanctuaries, where they are trained and nurtured.
This has been my constant position and the main source of tension between myself and the United States. There are also other issues, but as far as I'm concerned, Afghan civilian casualties are the main problem.
There is also a lack of visible and genuine effort on behalf of the USA to help us with the peace process. Neither myself nor the Afghan people are opposed to having a good relationship with the USA or Nato. The Afghan people approved the BSA at the recent loya jirga [Assembly of personalities, on November 24th ]. I'm in favour of the BSA. But I want this agreement to bring peace to Afghanistan and to put an end to attacks on Afghan homes. And the Afghan people must notice that these attacks have stopped.
You recently met James Dobbins, the American special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, on December 5th in Kabul. What was the substance of his message on this agreement ?
I had a long conversation with Mr Dobbins, whom I've known for ten years. He said that without the BSA, there will be no peace.
His remarks can be interpreted in several ways. In a positive way: once you sign the BSA, there will be peace. If they can reassure us, provide the trust we need, this is a good thing. You can also interpret his comments in a different way : “ If you don't sign the BSA, we will cause you trouble and provoke disturbances in the country”.
Either way, Afghanistan will remain committed to its demands, that the BSA must bring peace to Afghanistan. And before it is signed, we must have visible movements towards peace in Afghanistan. That means launching negotiations between the High Peace Council (HPC) and the Taliban. I understand that peace can't be delivered in one, two or three months. But what I want is the launch of a genuine peace process.
What role do you expect the US to play in the peace process ?
Given my experience and the information I have, I believe the USA can considerably help launch the peace process. When I was in Washington one year ago to negotiate the terms of a peace process with the US, I realised the Americans were speaking on behalf of the Taliban.
Are you saying that the Americans have been keeping secret contacts with the Taliban ?
Indeed, these secret contacts exist. But when I say the Americans can help with the peace process, it's because they have many other connections. They are friendly with Pakistan and Pakistan is definitely in contact with the Taliban. The USA has the ability, through Pakistan and directly as well, to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
If I summarize, you want to see an end to attacks on Afghan homes and a verifiable launch of the peace process ? And once you have these guarantees…
In that case, I would be willing to sign the BSA.
Could that happen before the next presidential election in April 2014 ?
If it happens, so the better. If it doesn't, then it will be for the next president to sign the BSA. My responsibility is to deliver all the guarantees for an agreement that serves the Afghan interests. And until I am convinced that these guarantees exist, I will not sign the BSA. Because the BSA, as much as it serves the interests of the USA and Nato, must also serve the interests of the Afghan people.
I need to be absolutely confident that this document delivers safety, security and peace to the Afghan people before I can approve it. At the loya jirga, the Afghan people told the USA : we want a good relationship with you, but you must change your behaviour, you need to behave in a way that doesn't harm or weaken Afghanistan. We have given you assurances of our friendship, you must now behave like an ally, not like an adversary.
Do you believe the USA sometimes behaves like an adversary ?
Attacking Afghan homes is an act of aggression. Launching a psychological war on Afghan people is an act of aggression.
What do you mean by a psychological war ?
A psychological war is a war against our economy, a war that encourages companies to leave Afghanistan, that encourages money to leave Afghanistan, that frightens Afghan's of the consequences of an American departure, is all this not psychological war ?
Do you think this is the outcome of deliberate American propaganda ?
Absolutely, this is the outcome of American state propaganda. Without a doubt. If I were not sure of all these things, I would not have been so adamant in my demands.
In some statements, you have compared the Taliban with the Americans as if they were both your enemies. And such statements have shocked many people in the USA given the number of American soldiers that have been killed in Afghanistan and the amount of financial assistance the USA has provided to your country.
I didn't say that. I'm grateful, the Afghan people are grateful, for the assistance that has been given to Afghanistan. And we would like to repeat our gratitude. But when and where the USA has behaved against our interests - and in spite of our repeated warnings -, it's my job to speak out, to tell the truth.
When the Taliban murder Afghan people, I condemn them. At the same time, I call them “brothers” because they are Afghans and I want them to come back to their homes and make peace with the country. To the Americans, I have said : you are here to fight extremism, or terrorism.
Why should the Afghan people pay the price of a war on terrorism ? Why would you attack an Afghan home, in the pursuit of a so-called taleb, of which there are many thousands in Afghanistan, and bring death and suffering to children and women? Would the USA launch drone attacks against homes in America in pursuit of a killer, a terrorist ? No. Why should the Americans do it in Afghanistan ? Do they feel an Afghan life is worth less than an American life ? I expect the USA to have an equal respect for an Afghan child as for an American child. We are not less worthy.
Some American officials have warned that if the BSA is not signed before the end of this year, there will be no BSA at all. And that means no American military presence beyond 2014. That would have huge security and financial consequences for Afghanistan. Do you think these warnings are serious or are they just a bluff ?
Even if they are real, even it's not a bluff, we are not to be pressured into signing the BSA without our conditions being met. Even if they are serious, the Americans can't push us into a corner. If the USA wants to be our ally, they have to be a respectful ally. They can't exploit us. What I hear these days, and what I've heard before, sounds like classic colonial exploitation. The Afghan's don't bow down, they have defeated in the past colonial powers. They'll accept a respectful relationship, they are an honourable people and will treat friends honourably.
Do you think the USA is behaving like a colonial power?
Absolutely. They threaten us by saying “We will no longer pay your salaries, we will drive you into a civil war”. These are threats. If you want to be our partner, we must be friends. Respect Afghan homes, don't kill their children and be a partner. So bluff or no bluff, we want respect for our commitment to the safety of Afghan lives and to peace in Afghanistan.
So you don't believe there would be dire consequences if the BSA is not signed ?
We will not cease to be a nation if that were to happen. It will be harsher for us, it will be more difficult, but we will continue to live our lives, we will continue to be a nation and a state. If the USA is here, if Nato is here, with us, with their resources, hopefully properly spent and not wasted, or looted, if our homes are respected, if peace is maintained, the American presence is good for Afghanistan, and we value it. But if their presence comes at the price of destroying Afghan homes, at the price of the security and the dignity of Afghans, if their presence here means continued war, and bombs and killings, then it's not worth it.
The Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, visited Kabul late November. His new civilian government is supposed to be more supportive of a peace process in Afghanistan. Mullah Baradar [an Afghan Taliban leader arrested in Karachi in 2010] was recently released by the Pakistani authorities. You apparently want mullah Baradar to play a role in the peace process. What kind of assurances did you get from Mr Sharif regarding mullah Baradar ?
I've met Mr Sharif before and after he became the Prime Minister, three or four times. He has good intentions for Pakistan. He is a patriotic Pakistani. He wants Pakistan to do well.
I'm sure he means well when he says he wants to improve relations with his neighbours, both with Afghanistan and India. And so far, he has tried his best to fulfil his commitments towards us, including towards mullah Baradar. We came to an understanding when he visited Kabul a few days ago. I hope it will be implemented, both on our side and with the help of the Americans.
Can you tell us what this understanding was about ?
Not at this point. When it will be implemented, you will know about it.
So should we expect a big initiative in the coming weeks ?
Let's not describe it as big or small. Let's say that we hope to see movements towards a peace process in Afghanistan.
In Doha (Qatar), the opening of the Taliban office on June 18th was a fiasco. You strongly protested after they displayed the emblems of the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan [name of the former Taliban regime]. Would you like to see this office reopen in Doha or be shifted to another country ?
Doha was not our choice. Doha, Qatar, was an American choice and an American plan. We negotiated for almost two years, we told the Americans from the beginning that this is not our place.
We want the peace process to be held in Afghanistan. And if not in Afghanistan, in Saudi Arabia or Turkey. But the Americans insisted on Qatar. We laid down our conditions. The Americans agreed on these conditions. The American president gave me a letter of assurances. But when the office in Qatar opened, those assurances were not respected. Therefore, Qatar is no longer an option for us.
You will not allow this bureau to reopen ?
Not in that manner, not at all. We want talks with the Taliban. My advice to our Taliban brothers is : they have a country, that country is Afghanistan. They are free to come here and to talk to us. The first choice must be Afghanistan. But if the Taliban say they want the talks to be held elsewhere, then for the sake of peace, we would agree.
But the Taliban don't want to talk with you ?
That's not true.
Officially at least
That's not true.
In their statement in Doha, they only raised the possibility of talks with “some Afghans” without mentioning your government.
It's wasn't the Taliban. The statement was issued in the name of the Taliban, it came from other countries. We know who wrote that statement.
The statement didn't come from the Taliban ? Was it a joint US-Pakistani initiative?
I wouldn't go that far at this stage. But we know the statement wasn't written by the Taliban. We know who wrote it for them.
But the Taliban don't consider you as a legitimate partner. They consider you as a “puppet” and only want to talk to the “master”. How can you therefore be recognized as a legitimate partner ?
Even those words did not come from the Taliban. They were intended to create an environment in Afghanistan in which peace would not happen.
So you think that the refusal to talk to you doesn't come from the Taliban. Does it come from another country ?
A neighbouring country ?
Neighbouring or not so neighbouring. We know the Taliban want to talk to us. We are in contact with them.
Corruption is a very big problem in Afghanistan, do you feel responsible for this problem ?
There is corruption in Afghanistan, no doubt. There is corruption within the Afghan system, no doubt. There is corruption also within the international community, especially regarding American contracts and the way those contracts are implemented. For example, the private security firms that the Americans have employed in Afghanistan were one of the biggest sources of corruption, and lawlessness, and insecurity, and – worst of all – they were also responsible for the creation of a parallel structure to the afghan security forces. They have effectively created a state within a state. And a corrupt one.
I have struggled for five to six years to stop them. But they won't stop. The USA kept on insisting that they should have them [the private security companies]. To put it in plain words, the USA and the international community have created a flood of corruption. I could have taken tougher measures but they would not have not ended corruption. They would have caused more frictions in the Afghan society.
You often suspect the USA or people in the West of trying to divide Afghanistan. Could you be more explicit?
I was approached by some countries and also by people acting on behalf of the Taliban, who told me that if the Taliban were given a place in Afghanistan, if they were allowed to officially settle there and run their administrations, that would then lead to a peace process. I saw that as a dangerous path to the creation of two states within one country.
I called some Taliban personalities, active in the movement, as well as those who have connexions to them, in order to enquire about this proposal. They said: “Yes, they were also approached and offered places in Afghanistan”. But they refused this offer. And I saw that the movement that lead to the opening of a Taliban office in Doha was related to that process. And the way it was announced proved our point. The manner in which certain other activities were conducted in the name of the peace process also indicated that certain forces in the West didn't want talks between the High Peace Council (HPC) and the Taliban but talks between the Taliban and other ethnic groups in Afghanistan.
They tried to ethnicize the conflict in arranged talks between warlords and ethnic groups. This has been proved. But this initiative failed because the Afghan people reacted strongly. Whatever the plan was, we know that the West, through some foundations and with the help of certain members of the US Congress, tried to force federalism in Afghanistan. We are convinced that a deliberate effort was made to weaken Afghanistan and to turn it into fiefdoms. To have a weak central government. And the reason why the Americans and some European countries tried to undermine the presidential elections in 2009 was also to have a weakened government with less legitimacy.
The next presidential election is due on April 5th 2014. Will it take place on time?
It has to take place on time. I am committed to this.
You will not allow this first round to be postponed?
It's up to the Electoral commission to decide. As far as I'm concerned, I will not interfere with the commission's decision. If they want to hold the election on April 5th, I'm very much for it.
Your brother, Qayum Karzaï, will be one of the eleven candidates running in this election. Is he your favourite candidate?
I told him in very clear words : “If you are a candidate, those who want to accuse me of interference will easily be able to do so. So please don't be a candidate”. But he said no: “I want to be a candidate”. He has that right as a citizen. But I have my views and my concerns.
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