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Hamid Karzai Interview


After his meeting with President Bush and meetings with Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, President Karzai sat down with my colleague, Melissa Block.


President Karzai, welcome.

President HAMID KARZAI (Afghanistan): Thank you.

BLOCK: You signed a strategic partnership today with President Bush that would involve economic assistance for Afghanistan, training for the Afghan military. Would it also include permanent US bases in your country?

Pres. KARZAI: The partnership that we have signed--it's a joint declaration between the two countries based on a demand from Afghanistan for a long-term relationship with Afghanistan. So we asked the international community, including the United States, to engage with us. The partnership is for that.

In the economic assistance, there's commitment to reconstruction of Afghanistan, there is commitment to the continuation of reconstruction and investment in Afghanistan and all that. In security areas, it's the continuation of the fight against terrorism, it's the continuation of the use of the facilities that America is using right now in Afghanistan. It provides Afghanistan with guarantees that the US would remain to help Afghanistan, to support Afghanistan in these regional activities in promoting peace in the region and promoting Afghanistan's desire to become a hub of trade in the region.

BLOCK: But to clarify, would that mean that the military bases currently in Afghanistan would be made permanent?

Pres. KARZAI: Would be? No. There's no such thing as permanent or non-permanent. It doesn't--it's not time-specific. It allows the continuation of the use of these military installations in the counterterrorism operations. It does not give a permanent status to anything.

BLOCK: You said before you came to Washington that you wanted no intrusive searches of houses of Afghans by US troops...

Pres. KARZAI: Mm-hmm. Yes.

BLOCK: ...without the consultation of the Afghan government.

Pres. KARZAI: Yes.

BLOCK: It didn't sound like President Bush went that far today. He talked about commanders consulting about mutual goals.

Pres. KARZAI: Yes.

BLOCK: Were you disappointed in what he said?

Pres. KARZAI: Well, the question was not asked that way. The question was asked--was whether, `You have agreed with Karzai's demand to have control over US military.' The US is a sovereign country, and we are a sovereign country. We cannot have control over US military. It's for the US government to have control, the US president to have control over US military. We are having control over our own military.

We are asking the US that in the fight against tourism--now we have gone four years--that there is a lot more stability and safety in Afghanistan; that the Afghan people don't understand anymore why we should be there in the villages and knocking at doors late at night and waking people up and arresting someone or not arresting someone, that that should stop. The regular fighting against terrorism, as they come in groups or when they attack--that that should go on. But the house searches should stop. And if there's any such thing, it should be done in consultation with Afghan government and then with Afghan security personnel.

BLOCK: And in your talks today with US officials here, is it now your understanding that before US forces would enter an Afghan home, possibly arrest someone there, that they would have to consult with the Afghan government?

Pres. KARZAI: We have began talking on these issues almost a year ago. A format has made on which we should implement the agreements, and I discussed it also in detail with Secretary Rumsfeld. We'll work out a format according to which we'll find out better ways of trying to arrest suspects or people who we feel are involved with terrorism.

BLOCK: An ongoing process that sounds like.

Pres. KARZAI: An ongoing process in the sense that is has to take place in consultation with Afghanistan through a mechanism that Afghanistan proposes.

BLOCK: You also talked with President Bush today about transferring the custody of Afghan detainees, whether they're at Guantanamo Bay or in prisons in Afghanistan--transferring their custody to the Afghan government. And again in his news conference today, it didn't sound like President Bush was ready for that to happen anytime soon.

Pres. KARZAI: We have negotiated this now for some time. If you remember, President Bush said as Afghanistan develops facilities of its own, we'll do that. And that's what's going to happen. We're asking for those prisoners to be returned, and we're seeking ways to develop our own capabilities. And as our capabilities improve, those prisoners will be given more and more trust. But eventually, these prisoners will be given to Afghanistan as these capabilities develop.

BLOCK: How long do you figure that would take eventually?

Pres. KARZAI: I can't put a figure of time on that.

BLOCK: Speaking of detainees, this discussion follows a New York Times report from last week that detailed the deaths of two Afghan men when they were in custody, US custody; it showed evidence of routine torture and cruelty on the part of US soldiers. This was on Afghan soil. How did that figure in your discussions with US officials today?

Pres. KARZAI: We discussed that. But look, an action of two individuals or three individuals does not reflect on a nation. We're not holding the US responsible for that, the two individuals that the Department of Defense is going to try them and sentence them to proper punishment, maybe prison and things like that. That does not represent the United States.

BLOCK: You say you expect the military to take care of this. The New York Times, in that story, though, also found that the criminal inquiry was very slow to get started. Military spokesmen were...

Pres. KARZAI: Well, that has to improve.

BLOCK: ...maintaining that the men had died of natural causes when, in...

Pres. KARZAI: That has to improve. That has to improve. That has to be better. There has to be a higher standard there.

BLOCK: And do you have assurances...

Pres. KARZAI: Obvious assurance.

BLOCK: ...from the military, from this government that this will be fully investigated?

Pres. KARZAI: Absolutely, yes. Absolutely.

BLOCK: Up the chain of command?

Pres. KARZAI: Absolutely, it will be--that I don't--these are US issues that I'm not going to get involved into. But I was given an assurance that those guys will be tried according to the US laws.

BLOCK: I'd like to ask you about the riots that broke out in your country after the report in Newsweek about the reported desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay. You said at the time that you believed the unrest was the work of foreign hands. And I'd...

Pres. KARZAI: Yes.

BLOCK: ...be curious to know what you mean by that, `foreign hands.'

Pres. KARZAI: Foreign hands means foreign hands.

BLOCK: Which hands?

Pres. KARZAI: Well, I can't go into specifics now, but those acts of arson and destruction were directed against the peace process that we have in Afghanistan. That's bringing back the Taliban into the country. They were directed against the partnership talk with the US. They were directed against elections. They were directed, in fact, to put it in a few words, against the strengthening of Afghanistan, against the enabling of Afghanistan. And the people reacted to that strongly. The radios, the newspapers--people called and condemned what happen.

BLOCK: Do you figure that along with this foreign presence that you're talking about that there is also an indigenous anti-US sentiment that you have to deal with, that you need to find someway to placate?

Pres. KARZAI: There isn't an indigenous--no, that isn't there. The Afghan people welcome the United States very much in Afghanistan. It was with US help that Afghanistan was liberated from terrorism and influences from outside. And with US help, Afghanistan is being reconstructed. The Afghan people are grateful. The Afghans--just as I told you earlier, there's certain technicalities that we need to correct. It's like stopping the search of homes and things like that. Otherwise, it's a perfectly good relationship.

BLOCK: What do you do as president to convince the Afghan people that this is a relationship to be trusted, that this is a long-term partnership, as you say, and that the US, in some form, will be in your country to stay?

Pres. KARZAI: Well, the assurance given to us today will be conveyed to the Afghan people and then they will believe us. They want that relationship. They want the US to stay longer and to help Afghanistan, till Afghanistan is firmly on its own feet.

BLOCK: President Karzai, thanks for talking with us.

Pres. KARZAI: Thank you. Thanks very much. Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, speaking with my colleague Melissa Block. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.