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Karzai Speaks with VOA on Afghan Political Tensions, Relations with West

by Shaista Lami July 16, 2014

These are the last days of Hamid Karzai's presidency in Afghanistan. The election to replace him is mired in controversy and accusations of vote rigging. As the country awaits a high-stakes U.N.-supervised election audit, Karzai spoke with VOA Afghan service correspondent Shaista Lami about his thoughts on the current political situation, his tumultuous relationship with western countries, and the future of his country and his own political career.

A transcript of the interview in English follows.

Once you were darling of the West, but now there is a huge gap in between [you and western nations]. What would you respond to that?

Well, I was asked this question by the BBC as well. And I answered that in a way that did not make me happy afterwards. First of all, I would like to be the darling of the Afghan people rather than the darling of another country or the leadership of some other country. Why was I the darling of the West? Did the West think that I would serve their interest as against the interest of the Afghan people? If it's a compromise of interests, then I am sure that there would be our darlings and there would be their darlings. It would be a two way business. But if it is coming from a viewpoint reminding of us Kipling's, Richard Kipling's, version of the white man, that we need to look up to the West all the time and that they always will lead us, provide us, and that without them, and that if we are not their darlings, then we are bad and a failure. Well, that is a troubling thought if that thought is in the West then I am very unhappy about it.

Should America continue to care for Afghanistan? What [did] America not do that it should have and what do [you] expect from Obama's administration for the next government in Afghanistan?

From the U.S. administration, I expect a true relationship as a partner. Where the United States while looking after its own interests and Afghanistan's and in the region. They're here for their interest. They should also be mindful that we have an interest. No entity, especially no nation, is without an interest. Ours may be very small by measure to that of the United States, may be different in ways to that of the United States, but if the United States follows a wiser policy, with regard to the formulation is pursuit of interests and also having in mind that other people also need to be respected and need to be given the right to have an interest. If this is understood in the United States, Afghanistan will be a great ally to them. So, to put it in short words, the United States of America will be an ally of Afghanistan, will be a partner of Afghanistan, if it sees that Afghans have an interest too and that they respect that interest.

And one other important question: what would you tell American troops that are soon to be departing from Afghanistan?

Well, I would show tremendous respect to the American people. They are hardworking people. They earn their daily bread and butter through sheer hard work. It's an admirable society. It's a compassionate society. The help that they have given to Afghanistan through collecting their taxes and then sending them to Afghanistan is highly appreciated. I have not only no complaints against the American people but I have tremendous regard for them and admiration for them. I have complaints and at times anger, very strong anger, at the U.S. government at the way they behave to Afghanistan and the interest of the Afghan people.

As a part of an agreement brokered by Secretary Kerry, both the candidates accepted that the winning candidate will form a new national unity government. What are your understandings of such a government?

The idea of a national unity government is always welcome. It is something that all presidents and any president elected by the Afghan people must have in mind, must do. All the Afghan people must see themselves in the Afghan government. In the system of government that represents this country. If by the national unity government, we mean a government that has the Afghan people in it, that is a matter of Afghanistan, it is a great idea, is welcome. But if it is an arrangement of a sort of coalition of political parties, well, that is a different issue. And if it is a division of posts, of governmental positions, that is a different issue. But as far as the idea of a government representing the entire Afghan nation is concerned, the Afghan people are concerned, it's a good idea and I support it. I have heard that there was talk of a government whereby the winner would accommodate also the runner up, the second vote winner. It's not a bad thing. We should do that for the good of all of us.

Is it true that the agreement also involves the creation of a new chief executive position followed by amending the constitution to create a parliamentary system in the country? You were against this in 2009.

Yes I was.

Do you approve of this notion?

If we are speaking of a change of system from presidential to parliamentary, it is something that can be done. The Afghan loya jirga can change the constitution from a presidential to a parliamentary form of government. But in order for Afghanistan to have a parliamentary form of government, we must before that, make sure that we have strong institutions. The self-services of the country must be entirely and totally apolitical. And protected by law where politicians and parliamentarians and those in government would not be able to intervene in appointments or have disposals as they wish, have appointments as they wish. And we should have consolidated and institutionalized national security forces, the military, the police, and also the judiciary. So those four very important national institutions must be in place and sorted in place before we go to a parliamentary system. The parliamentary system itself is a colorful system. It doesn't have the complications of a presidential system like we saw during the two elections in 2009 and 2014. Why not, yes.

Again, about election, you were against foreign interference.


Yes, in the beginning, but now you welcomed the agreement between the two candidates, with the international communities involvement and the U.S. involvement.

I did not welcome it. I simply accepted it as a bitter pill at this time in our life. I changed the Afghan election law to one that that is now entirely Afghan run and Afghan owned. The reason I agreed to it was because of the particular conditions in which we were during this election where one of the candidates, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, did not want any Afghan institutions working to correct if there is a problem in the election. He demanded the United Nations intervention and intermediary role to be played. I accepted it because I wanted to get past this stage very quickly because the elections have already taken a lot of time in this country. Not country in the world has such a lengthy electoral process and this must be corrected as well. And the Afghan people are waiting very much, very impatiently, towards their new president. So to reach that objective sooner, I accepted it. Not accepting it would have caused more complications for the people of Afghanistan and I believe I did the right thing.

Can the wounds of the election be healed? Especially through this new national unity government?

There is no wound. The Afghan people voted. The Afghan people voted all over the country for the candidates that they liked. Dr. Ashraf Ghani got good votes in Badakhshan got votes in Panjshir. Dr. Abdullah got very good votes in Nangarhar. He won over 91,000 votes. That's great. And he won tremendously good votes in Herat, Kandahar, and Faryab. So the Afghan people have voted across the country to the candidate that they liked regardless of where the candidate comes from or what affiliation the candidate has. We are a strong country in terms of unity, deeply rooted. These are the hiccups of election time. They occur in all countries around the world.

Many think that you will be very active and will not go quietly into retirement. What are your future plans, Mr. President?

I will be a retired president. I would stand firmly behind the next president. If ever the next Afghan president or the government asks for advice, I will humbly come and provide that advice. I will be trying my best to be a factor of help and assistance and stability, and if the Afghan people would need my services as a citizen of this country, as a fellow citizen of this country, that would be there but I will be not at all involved in the issues of government. The next president, the next government, should have complete authority to determine how they rule and how they appoint.

But some say that you want to be the power behind the next president. What would you tell them?

No, no that's not my nature. I did not exercise power even when I was president the way that any president would have done. I'm complexly disinterested in power, or the idea of power, I don't believe in the thing, 'power'.

And Mr. President, if you could go back in time, and change one thing. What would that be?

I have an answer for that. But I will not give that answer now because I am still the president of this country. And I need to be a very cautious with my words and my feelings. But I would do something if I were to begin again. There would be a massive change. And that I will tell you after I am no longer president.

And what as the most valuable lesson you learned from your experience as president of Afghanistan?

That's a very good question. The lesson is that the Afghan are a great people. They would give you all that you want to serve them and they would give you their trust. Often, that trust has been betrayed by those to whom they deliver the trust. We saw it in the past 30 years. I've seen them extremely forgiving and wanting this country to do well. I've called people who have lost children, very often, including today. And the man that I spoke to today, and as I have all along, none of them ever have told me, 'Why President? Why did I lose my wife? Why did I lose my child? Why am I suffering?' Rather he says, 'President, thank you for calling.' And that's a tremendous nation. That's a tremendously courageous people to have.

And let's end it with that. Thank you very very much.

Thank you ma'am. All the best.

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