Approaching seven years after 9/11, would you have predicted that the Iraqi Prime Minister would be in Tehran pledging closer ties to the mullahcracy, and the Afghan President reporting that Western countries are paying off jihadist warlords?
“‘I Wish I Had the Taliban as My Soldiers,'” from Spiegel, June 2 (thanks to Ruth King):
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, much has been written about the failures of the international community in Afghanistan. But a good part of the so-called insurgency in the south and east of your country appears to have more to do with a protest movement against a bad government and corrupt elite. It doesn’t seem like much of an exaggeration to talk about a resurgence of the Taliban. Is it not true that many Afghans are only joining the Taliban because they don’t consider them to be corrupt?
Hamid Karzai: I disagree. That is absolutely wrong.
He doesn’t seem to disagree, however, that the Taliban is resurgent — possibly contradicting the recent claim that they’re on the brink of defeat.
SPIEGEL: Some Afghan people say that the president himself, who is appointing high-ranking officials in Kabul and in the provinces, is fueling the insurgency with these personnel decisions. Is that there any truth in that?
Karzai: Governance has improved immensely in Afghanistan. For the first time in six years, the Afghan budget has become transparent, there are no longer any secret funds. Before, the governors did whatever they wanted. Now there is a reporting requirement and there are former governors who were criminal or corrupt who are now in prison, like the former governor of Baghdis province. Of course the country needs more time, but the problems we have in the south and east are not because of bad governance.
SPIEGEL: Then what are the reasons for the difficult situation there?
Karzai: There is a lot of interference from abroad. The south part of the country has always been the center of the Taliban activity; they came from there. And there are also traces of the mujahedeen’s decades-long battle. These are all factors.
SPIEGEL: Some of your closest aides are suspected of stealing land, drug smuggling and having illegal militias, among them respected governors and police chiefs. Your attorney general, Abdul Jabar Sabet, just named a few of them, including the governor of Nangarhar. Why do you still protect these people?
Karzai: I am not protecting anybody. We are trying to govern Afghanistan and bring peace and stability. I know about the problems with the police. The international community finally agreed after two years of very intense and angry negotiations that the police are a problem and in the middle of 2007 they began to work with us. The checkpoints on the roads, for example, were developed during the years of the Soviet invasion, a time when the country became lawless and each local commander set up his own checkpoint to collect money.
SPIEGEL: During the Taliban times there were no checkpoints at all.
Karzai: That was the best aspect of the Taliban. They did a lot wrong, but they also did a few things right. I wish I had the Taliban as my soldiers. I wish they were serving me and not people in Pakistan or others. When we came back to Afghanistan, the international community brought back all those people who had turned away from the Taliban “¦
SPIEGEL: “¦ you mean the brutal commanders who fought in the civil war “¦
Karzai: “¦ who then became partners with the foreign allies and are still paid by them today for their support. It is not always easy for me to find a way that can enable Afghanistan’s administration to function.
SPIEGEL: Dirty deals are still necessary for the stability of Afghanistan?
Karzai: Absolutely necessary, because we lack the power to solve these problems in other ways. What do you want? War? Let me give you an example. We wanted to arrest a really terrible warlord, but we couldn’t do it because he is being protected by a particular country. We found out that he was being paid $30,000 a month to stay on his good side. They even used his soldiers as guards “¦
SPIEGEL: That sounds like the story of Commander Nasir Mohammed in Badakhshan, a province where German soldiers are based.
Karzai: I don’t want to name the country because it will hurt a close friend and ally. But there are also many other countries who contract the Afghan militias and their leaders. So I can only work where I can act, and I must always calculate what will happen before doing anything….