Interview with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai

Interview with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai

By The Situation Room - May 8, 2009

BLITZER: You recently gave an interview to our own Fareed Zakaria back on April 19. And you said this:


HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: Yes, indeed, al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was driving out of Afghanistan in 2001 by the combined forces of the United States, our other allies, and the Afghan people.


BLITZER: Are you saying there's no al Qaeda in Afghanistan right now?

KARZAI: No al Qaeda based in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: So who are you fighting against?

KARZAI: That's the thing. That's why we say that the war on terrorism is not in the Afghan villages, that it's in the sanctuaries. It's the financial support system to them. It's in the training grounds. And it's beyond Afghan borders.

That has now been established by the U.S. administration. That's why we have this tripartite between us and Pakistan and the United States. That's why the conduct of military operations that caused civilian casualties is not only out of place, but causes a lot of suffering to us as well.

BLITZER: Who is the bigger threat to Afghanistan, the al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, or the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar?

KARZAI: None of them. They can cause damage, they can kill innocent people, they can destroy schools, but they're not a threat to Afghans.

They can hurt. They can slow down our progress towards a better tomorrow. They can slow down the reconstruction. They can attack bridges and destroy them. But they're not a threat to the Afghan state or to the value system that the Afghan people hold deep.

BLITZER: I always ask you this question. I'll ask it to you again. Do you know where bin Laden is?

KARZAI: No, I don't know where he is, really. But I hope we will catch him one day sooner or late.

BLITZER: Do you think he's in Afghanistan?

KARZAI: Definitely not, no. He can't hide in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Where do you think he might be?

KARZAI: Well, there were rumors that he's probably in areas close to the Afghan border in Pakistan, but we don't know.

BLITZER: But you believe he's alive?

KARZAI: Well, from what we hear, he probably is alive. But we don't know.

BLITZER: Do you have a better relationship with the new president of Pakistan, President Zardari, than you had with the former president, Musharraf?

KARZAI: I had a good working relationship with former President Musharraf.

BLITZER: Sometimes, it was strained.

KARZAI: Sometimes, it was strained over issues that concerned Afghanistan. And also now, the same issues concern Pakistan's as well immensely.

I have a very close relationship with President Zardari, a working relationship...

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in him?

KARZAI: ... and a friendly relationship. Of course we see issues the same way. That is a qualitative change.

BLITZER: We have another iReport from a viewer, Billy Dennis Jr. of Mesquite, Texas.


BILLY DENNIS JR., CNN IREPORTER: What are the objectives, both political and military, that must be achieved, in your opinion, in order for American and NATO combat forces to be able to withdraw completely from Afghanistan and return home? (END VIDEO CLIP)

KARZAI: Well, the -- those objectives are not set by Afghanistan alone. Those objectives are set by Afghanistan and the international community together, especially the United States.

The United States and the rest of the world came to Afghanistan after September 11, after the tragedy in New York, for the purpose of defeating terrorism and al Qaeda. And, in the process, the liberation of Afghanistan took place, and a constitution for Afghanistan emerged, and a new life.

BLITZER: I guess the question is, how much longer do you need...

KARZAI: Exactly. Exactly.

BLITZER: ...U.S. and NATO forces?

KARZAI: Now, in that, as we have begun this journey together, the accomplishments will determine the date of withdrawal.

If we defeat terrorism sooner, and if Afghanistan and the rest of the world are safer sooner, of course, there will not be the kind of need that there is today for presence of Afghanistan. The troops can withdraw.

BLITZER: Well, you say there's no al Qaeda there.

KARZAI: But the war is there, you see? America is not in Afghanistan per se for Afghanistan alone. It is there to fight an enemy that is slipping in and out. That is across the border as well. That's international as well. They're there because they used Afghanistan as the central ground.

BLITZER: Are we talking five years, two years, 10 years?

KARZAI: I can't give you a time frame. I can give you a time frame for the building up of the Afghan institutions. I can say that within 10 years from now, Afghanistan will be a lot more capable as a state.

BLITZER: And so for the next 10 years, you think you'll need that kind of U.S./NATO assistance?

KARZAI: Assistance to help Afghanistan build itself. But the war on terror is an entirely different issue.

We may be able to conduct much of this war on our own, much of the struggle -- I don't like to use the term "war" -- but of the struggle on our own as we move forward. But to defeat the al Qaeda and the terrorist networks, it's an evolving thing.

We may not need armies 10 years from now. We may need more intelligence, more, you know, technology to wage...

BLITZER: So, it's going to be a while? KARZAI: It's going to be a while.


KARZAI: It will keep evolving.


BLITZER: We're going to have much more of this interview coming up with the president of Afghanistan, including what he's doing about that law he recently enacted that effectively allows husbands to rape their wives if they refuse sex -- much more of this interview coming up.

Also, I misspoke earlier when I said that that U.S. airstrike that the president of Afghanistan says killed more than 100 civilians occurred in Pakistan. Of course, it didn't occur in Pakistan. It occurred in the Farah Province of Afghanistan. Just want to correct the record on that.


BLITZER: He signed a law that critics say legalizes rape within marriage. And -- but the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, makes some surprising revelations about that law in my one-on-one interview -- more of the interview coming up.

And look at this. U.S. authorities want a blast-proof camera that can record and survive a terror attack on mass transmit -- how it's on the fast track to being placed into service.

And this -- they're not waiting until their kids are grown to serve as lawmakers -- how young mothers are bringing a baby boom to Congress.


BLITZER: You just heard the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, say there's no al Qaeda in Afghanistan and that the al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are not really a threat to his country.

Let's get some more of this interview I had today with the president of Afghanistan. We spoke about an issue that sparked major controversy around the world.


BLITZER: You signed a law that is very controversial in Afghanistan, that's caused a huge uproar around the world, that is being interpreted as saying that, if the husband's wife isn't willing to give him sex, he can then go ahead and rape her.

Now, a woman named Hassina Sherjan, director Aid Afghanistan for Education, writes this in "The New York Times": "It places restrictions on when a woman can leave her house and states the circumstances in which she is obliged to have sex with her husband. I was part of a group of civil society representatives who recently met with President Karzai. He promised to fight for us to have it amended. "


BLITZER: Now, you told Fareed Zakaria a month or so ago that you didn't know what was in this law, even though you signed it into law.

KARZAI: Yes. Yes. The -- more details of this law, I did not know. I was contacted by our human rights commissioner three months before the law came to me on two specific items of the law that I then corrected through the minister of justice and sent back to the parliament.

The other details of the law, we did not know, I did not know especially. And this is something that has to be investigated as to how come all those elements were there without the parliament knowing while they were voting for it? Because I asked some parliamentarian woman. I said -- they had come to see me. I said, well, you voted for the law.

BLITZER: Because the suspicion was, you knew what you were doing, but you were seeking political support to help you get reelected.

KARZAI: No. Yes, that was a lot there in the press about it. No. No.

BLITZER: You didn't know about it?

KARZAI: Not at all.

BLITZER: So, have you changed it?


I -- as soon as I learned of this, I called the minister of justice to explain to me whether this is true or not. First, I didn't believe it. I thought this was propaganda by a segment of the Muslim press.

So, when I went to Kabul -- this was our during our visit to Holland. When I went back to Kabul, I called the administrator to tell me if this was true. He said, yes, as a matter of fact, when he looked into it, that this is true.

Then I called a meeting of our senior-most (INAUDIBLE) discuss with them, and arranged that this law should be amended where can amend it and remove some of the articles where we can remove them.

BLITZER: Has that happened yet?

KARZAI: That has happened.

BLITZER: So this law is null and void now?

KARZAI: The law was null and void even then, because it had not gone to the (INAUDIBLE) process.

When a law is signed by the president -- when a law is passed by the parliament, signed by the president, it then has to go into the official (INAUDIBLE) of Afghanistan.


BLITZER: So this law does not exist now?

KARZAI: Until it goes to the (INAUDIBLE), it does not exist, it is not the law. So it had not become the law.

BLITZER: All right. So this is not the law.

KARZAI: Now -- not at all.

BLITZER: And it will never be the law?


Now I'm coming to the next part. The amendment has happened. The document of the amendment was shown to me some 10 days ago. And the minister of justice is working on it with the clergy to send it back to the parliament.

BLITZER: What did your wife tell you about this law?

KARZAI: Well, she didn't know about it and I didn't know about it. This is (INAUDIBLE) not acceptable. So, it has been corrected.

BLITZER: So, it has been corrected or will be corrected?

KARZAI: It's in the process of correction.

BLITZER: So, you can -- the next time we speak, this law will be toast, as they say?

KARZAI: Sure. Absolutely, parts of the law, the bad parts of the law, the part not acceptable.

BLITZER: There are other parts that you like?

KARZAI: Well, this is a family law. There are too many things in this law that relate family affairs of our Shia people. There are certain items, maybe nearly 40 items, that are controversial and not acceptable. The rest of the law is routine civil code of Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Because there's a lot of concern that maybe Afghanistan is moving back to the dark days...

KARZAI: No, no, no, not at all.

BLITZER: ... when the Taliban had...

(CROSSTALK) KARZAI: Not at all. Not at all. Not at all. Not at all. Not at all. Even those who formulated this law from our clergy are significantly wise and knowledgeable people. I sat with them, and we discussed it, so it's not like that. It's a democratic process now.

You go through the parliament. You go through lobby groups. You go through the interest groups. You go through all sorts of other elements of lawmaking society. It's like you have in your countries.

BLITZER: We're out of time.

KARZAI: In other words, the president is not the only person doing things. There's a democratic process of lawmaking.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but I have to ask you about poppies and opium in your country. This is a huge, huge problem, as you know.

In September of 2006, you and I sat down. And in the interview, we spoke about what was going on in Afghanistan then. And I asked you, "What are you doing about it?"

And you said this:


KARZAI: We're embarrassed because of it and we will have to get rid of it. Some of it will be our job, law enforcement, eradication, arrest of drug dealers. Some of it will be the job of the international community, which is the provision of alternative livelihoods and economic instruction.

Yes, it is an Afghan problem, and we should take care of it. It's -- Afghans have to take the blame for it, indeed.


BLITZER: Now, that was almost three years ago.

KARZAI: Right.


BLITZER: Eighty-seven percent of the world's opium, poppies, comes from Afghanistan, according to the State Department and the United Nations.

KARZAI: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: And since then, it seems -- correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. President -- that this problem has only gotten worse in Afghanistan.


In 2005, we had only three provinces free of poppies. In 2009, we have 22 provinces free of poppies out of 34 provinces that we have. BLITZER: But 87 percent of the world's supply still comes from Afghanistan.


KARZAI: I'm coming to that.

So, only one province of the country produces the largest amount of poppy that affects the world. And there, the Afghan government's control is very limited.

When we were in control in that province five years ago, poppies were three and a half times less than what they are today the rest of the country was producing as well. Now the rest of the country is not producing. Twenty-two provinces have been freed completely or partially...


BLITZER: But this is such a source of money for the Taliban.

KARZAI: It is not a -- it is a source of money for the Taliban. It is also a source of money for the drug dealers and for the international mafia.

The money goes elsewhere. It doesn't stay in Afghanistan. That province (INAUDIBLE) province will not go away unless and until it is completely under the control of the...


BLITZER: When is that going to happen?

KARZAI: That is something that we'll have to work together with our international partners and Afghanistan.

We have -- the pressure is there. The American forces are arriving there. And the Afghan public should be boosted there. We have to wrest control away from the Taliban and put it back into the Afghan rule of law in and then expect Afghanistan to deliver.

Where we are in charge, we have delivered in the rest of country.

BLITZER: It's a tough issue, this..

KARZAI: It is a tough issue. It's -- we are realistic about it. But we are working on it. Where we are in charge, the Afghan government, we have delivered.

BLITZER: What did you think of President Obama?

KARZAI: Good man, a capable man. I had a good conversation with him. I was very happy when he expressed regrets and sorrows over the loss of civilian lives. That was nice of him. And that laid a good foundation.

BLITZER: And you think you're going to get reelected?

KARZAI: I hope so.

I hope the Afghan people continue to trust me. I hope they see me worthy of service to them. And if they see me worthy of service to them, I'm sure they will elect me. And if they don't elect me in a democratic process, at least I would have served Afghanistan democratically and moved out democratically. That will be an (INAUDIBLE) itself.

BLITZER: Are you feeling secure personally...


BLITZER: ... given the security threats that you face?

KARZAI: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. No, there has never been a worry. I leave it to God.

BLITZER: That's what you always tell me whenever I ask.

Thanks so much for coming in.

KARZAI: Welcome.


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