In an exclusive interview with Sputnik, former IRA President Hamid Karzai commented on the current situation in Afghanistan, criticized the new strategy of the US and spoke about the difference between the Taliban and Daesh, as well as ways to resolve the military conflict in the country and the role of Russia in the Afghan settlement process.
‘The Convocation of the Council of Elders Will Help to Overcome the Crisis’
Sputnik: Dear Mr. Karzai, first of all, on behalf of the news agency Sputnik, we thank you for your kind agreement to receive us and to talk. Afghanistan has been the focus of international attention for many years now, mainly because it has been losing the war on terror and violence for almost 40 years. As the most vivid representative of the political elite of Afghanistan, what can you say about the situation the country is in now? What are the most acute problems it is facing? How can these problems be solved, and what is needed to solve them?
Hamid Karzai: We hoped that with the arrival of the United States and its allies in 2001, and as a result of the assistance we got from the United Nations and neighboring states, peace would finally come to our country. At first, the situation actually, outside intervention, decreased or ceased altogether. We became full masters of our country and our life and gradually began to solve our problems. Afghanistan again became home to all Afghans, and we began the process of nation-building: We started creating state structures and drafting a new Constitution. However, later we witnessed renewed riots, which intensified every day, and it became clear that the presence of foreign forces is not a factor of security. Terrorism didn’t go anywhere and it even increased leading to new destruction and death.
Today, we, the Afghan people, should think about ways out of the crisis, and this should be done our own way. Ensuring security is an issue that no one else can solve, and we must solve it in cooperation with neighboring countries and countries of the region, which are facing the same challenges and threats. We must develop a wide range of measures to end the crisis also through the convening of the Loya Jirga [All-Afghan Council of Elders — Sputnik], uniting all our people and come to a national consensus on this issue.
Sputnik: During your presidency you took a number of important steps to establish peace and stability in the country, in politics and also in the defense and humanitarian areas. What were the most important steps taken along this way? What has changed since you stepped down from the presidency?
Hamid Karzai: When I was president, all important issues were discussed at Loya Jirga meetings. The Loya Jirga decided on issues like relations with Pakistan, the process of peaceful settlement in the country, the Constitution, a bilateral security treaty with the United States, negotiations with the Taliban, who are also our compatriots, and so on. I believed that people should participate in the decision-making [process] on these issues and engage in across-the-board nationwide consultations. After I stepped down as president, it became clear that, contrary to our expectations, the security treaty did not bring long-awaited peace and did not improve the security situation in the country. On the contrary, the threat of terrorism is growing, and we are confronted with Daesh, which is invading our country and threatening our population. Why did this happen? Why, despite the security treaty, we have no peace and our relations with our neighbors and countries in the region have deteriorated?
Moreover, someone is trying in every possible way to split the Afghan society. Who needs this? Who is behind this? If these attempts come from people who are inside the country, among us, then why do they do it? I want to get answers to these questions not only from the Afghan government, but also from the United States, which came to our country to fight terrorism and is going to expand its presence here. Why, despite the presence of international forces, is the process of national reconciliation now at risk? Who is hampering it? Is it Afghans themselves or some foreign forces who do not want to leave Afghanistan? I know that they are not Afghans.
I know that the Afghan people want peace and harmony, to see their country peaceful and prosperous.
‘I Believe That Friendship With Russia Will Ensure Afghanistan’s Stability’
Sputnik: Many see you today not just as the former president of Afghanistan, but also one of the most charismatic political figures in the region. You often attend major international summits, participate in various high-level meetings. You are well known and respected in Russia, you are a frequent guest of the Russian Federation. Tell me, what is Russia for you personally? How do you assess the current state of Russian-Afghan relations and their future?
Hamid Karzai: Russia had longstanding friendly ties with Afghanistan since the times of the czar, before the Soviet Union. We can say that our relations go back centuries. Formal relations between our two countries number three centuries, but relations between our people began developing even before that.
After the Soviet Union was established, our relations became closer and deeper. The USSR was one of Afghanistan’s closest and strongest allies of Afghanistan at the time, but the invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake. This invasion caused resistance from the Afghan people and did serious damage to our relations, which actually led to their cessation.
The breakup of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, opened a new chapter in our relations, characterized by armed conflicts and bloodshed and ending with the formation of a new government in 2001. After coming to power, I did everything to revive relations with Russia, and we succeeded.
Despite the presence of NATO and US forces, which compete with Russia in many fields, we maintained our cooperation, including in the fight against extremism and terrorism, and this cooperation was both at the state level and at the level of contacts between peoples. Our two countries have very close ties now. Russia as a neighboring country, with which we have long historical ties and traditionally friendly relations, can contribute to the peace process, and we believe that friendship with Russia will become an important factor of stability and sustainable development of our country. Relations with Russia are of vital importance for us, and no matter what government we have here in Afghanistan, it must preserve, develop and strengthen these relations.
Sputnik: What role do you think Russia could play in the process of ending the long-standing military conflict in Afghanistan? After all, it is not a secret for many today that it is thanks to the efforts of Russia, its diplomats and President Vladimir Putin that today the protracted armed conflict in Syria is waning, and Daesh terrorists are being defeated. Does it make sense, in your opinion, for Moscow to similarly join the Afghan process? What or who can prevent it from doing this?
Hamid Karzai: Russia, which even before the military operation had a military base in Syria, had brought about a dramatic change in the situation in Syria. Russia’s military operation in cooperation with Iran and Turkey dealt a crushing blow to extremism and terrorism in Syria and pushed Daesh to the brink of total destruction. The Syrians regained their country and became its masters again.
As for Afghanistan, there is no need for a military operation by Russia. We do not want this. Neither do we want the Americans to continue their military operations, endangering our cities and villages. We want the cooperation with the US to be aimed only at combating terrorism and not to damage our positions in the region and our relations with our neighbors. Afghanistan should be a place for cooperation, rather than regional rivalry.
Earlier, when Russia and other neighboring countries supported the US anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, the American presence was benefiting our country. Now however, we are increasingly confronted with its negative consequences. In this regard, we would like to say the following.
First, we want the widest possible cooperation with Russia in the political, economic and diplomatic fields; this cooperation is in our best interest and will contribute to stability in our country. Secondly, we want Russia to enter into a dialogue with the United States and other countries on the issue of Afghanistan in order to see what is really happening in Afghanistan and how they can help. Thirdly, the United States should reconsider its policy towards Afghanistan so that Afghanistan is no longer seen as an object of rivalry. And, fourthly, Afghanistan, an independent sovereign state, cannot build its relations based on US strategic interests in the region. We must build up relations with Russia and other neighboring countries on a bilateral and mutually beneficial basis, based on our interests and the interests of these countries. The American strategy in Afghanistan has been a failure.
Sputnik: One of the most sensitive and perhaps vital topics for Moscow in its relations with Kabul is the question of the opaque and aggressive US policy in Afghanistan. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently criticized the new US strategy in Afghanistan. You share this standpoint. What in your opinion are the weaknesses and mistakes of the American strategy, both new and previous?
Hamid Karzai: As I said, Russia cooperated with the US on the issue of Afghanistan. At a conference in Shanghai in 2008, I met with President Putin and voiced my unhappiness with the US actions, saying that bombing cities and villages, opening prisons and attacking civilian houses only undermine the fight against terrorism and lead to new losses among the Afghan people. Mr. Putin then said that Russia and the United States had a lot of disagreements on different issues, but when it came to the issue of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, Russia shares the US position.
It was in 2009, 2010 and 2011, but then Russia saw that extremism in Afghanistan was growing, the situation was deteriorating, and at the same time there were always new excuses being made to justify the ineffectiveness of the fight against terrorism. Russia has doubts about America’s true intentions and its readiness to confront terrorism, and these doubts have been confirmed both by the example of Syria and Afghanistan.
You know that I had previously expressed doubts about the US operation, that’s why I did not sign a security treaty with the US. I told them that they must ensure peace and security in Afghanistan before we can sign a deal. So Russia is right, the US should recognize the failure of its strategy. If it does, it should explain the reasons for this defeat. If it isn’t failing, then what is it doing? Why is the situation in the country and the region worsening every day?
Sputnik: In 2018, NATO will send an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that half of them will be US soldiers and officers. The Russian president’s special representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, insists that NATO’s plans to increase its contingent in Afghanistan will not solve the Afghan problem. Do you think [this military buildup] will bring any results?
Hamid Karzai: No! We do not want war; we do not want to continue the military operation and do not want new victims among the Afghan people for the sake of other states. If the US wants to use Afghanistan to achieve its global goals, including in the region, then it should look for other means! We do not want to see our houses bombed and our people killed; Afghanistan is no longer willing to pay such a price to please the interests of others.
Sputnik: Then what are the ways of solving the Afghan crisis?
Hamid Karzai: This should be a path that does not lead to an escalation of the war, but to the establishment of peace, security and stability in Afghanistan. We are tired of the fratricidal war imposed on us and the bloodshed, and the only way for us to survive is the path of national harmony. I believe that the first step towards national consensus should be the convening of the Loya Jirga, where we can discuss the current situation and decide what we want and where we should move from here. We need to decide whether we want an endless war or the time has come to for us to decide our own future, to establish peace and ensure our own security.
If the Americans really want to help us, then they should help strengthen our national security forces. They can also provide financial assistance so that the Afghan government and the Afghan people are able to counter terrorism and take the situation under their own control.
The American presence and the escalation of the war will not change the situation: the failure of this path has already been proved.
Afghanistan is another springboard for Daesh.
Sputnik: A number of Western media equate Daesh with the Taliban. Is such a judgment correct?
Hamid Karzai: There is a difference between the Taliban and Daesh in that the Taliban are Afghans, they come from Afghanistan, they know the Afghan people, they know our customs and you can find them in any city and any village. For example, in Kunduz and some other provinces, you can see two flags hanging next to each other: the white flag of the Taliban and the national flag of Afghanistan. The war with the Taliban is a civil war, and our task is to find ways to reconcile so that we can stop it as soon as possible.
Unlike the Taliban, Daesh is a foreign product. It was created by foreigners, trained by foreigners and financed by foreigners. For them, Afghanistan is another springboard, they use Afghanistan in the interests of their masters, and we must drive them out of our country.
Sputnik: But the Taliban is killing civilians too…
Hamid Karzai: Yes, it is so! The Taliban’s actions also lead to the death of civilians, and we categorically condemn it. I just wanted to emphasize the difference between these groups: Daesh is an international terrorist organization, and the Taliban is Afghans.
We know that Daesh militants are well equipped; they move around in helicopters without identification marks, they are supplied with weapons, and this proves once again that Daesh is supported and financed by foreigners.
Sputnik: Much has been said about why US troops are in Afghanistan. Not for the sake of peace, but for their own benefit: natural resources, the drug business, etc.
Hamid Karzai: It is clear that the US pursued its own goals when it entered Afghanistan. The Americans said from the very beginning that they did not come to help the Afghan people, but rather to ensure their security. Later, we realized that they see Afghanistan only as a tool for implementing their geopolitical plans in the region, and once we realized this, it became clear that we needed to find our own ways of normalizing the situation in the country. I believe that to achieve peace we need a broad national consensus that will help unite our people and make fundamental decisions to overcome the crisis at the national level. Only after we have ended this crisis will we be able to move to elections, the formation of a government and parliament and the creation of conditions for the further development of our country.