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CNN Larry King Live

One-on-One with President Hamid Karzai

Aired October 11, 2010 - 21:00   ET



LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): On almost a decade of war, this the deadliest year yet. Is his government holding secret high- level talks with the Taliban?

PRES. HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN: We have been talking to the Taliban as a countrymen.

KING: What's he doing about allegations of corruption? What about Osama Bin Laden? Is there a future for Afghanistan? An open interview with President Hamid Karzai is next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING (on-camera): Great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE, President Hamid Karzai. He is the president of Afghanistan. He comes to us from the presidential palace in Kabul. Mr. President, first, thank you for being with us. Second, we just marked the ninth anniversary of this war. Did you ever think it would take so long?

KARZAI: No, sir. I never thought it was going to take so long. In 2001, when this whole effort against extremism and terrorism began, the Afghan people and the international community joined hands and the victory came within a month and a half. Subsequent to that, we all felt that now it was going to be the rebuilding of Afghanistan and towards a more secure, brighter future. Part of it, we achieved. Part of which was security and the absolute defeat of terrorism, not yet.

KING: Many Americans, as you know, Mr. President, are anxious about our being there. Many are asking, what is the United States' purpose? What can we still achieve in your country?

KARZAI: Well, the United States came to Afghanistan after September 11th in order to make the United States more secure from terrorism. And that, they wanted to do by making Afghanistan and this region more secure. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, part of that has been achieved. And now, the United States and actually all of us around the world, must find ourselves more secure from the threats of terrorism.

And we should do the right thing in order to get that. And in our opinion, the right thing is to be focused strategically on the financial resources to terrorism, on the sanctuaries to terrorism, on the availability of guidance to them and training to them. If we do that correctly and together, all of us, we will surely succeed sooner.

KING: Was it a good idea, Mr. President, for the United States, the surge, the adding of 30,000 troops? Was that a good idea?

KARZAI: The United States, towards the end of 2007 and 2008, felt that what the Afghans were asking for a long time in 2002 and 2003 was adequate resources in both men and material to fight terrorism and to rebuild Afghanistan. That was not given then. And when matters turned worse, this new thinking emerged that there should be more resources and more men.

We believe that concentrating more resources on the sanctuaries of terrorism, on protecting the Afghan borders and on building the Afghan country is a good idea.

KING: Do you personally, Mr. President, like having foreign troops on your soil?

KARZAI: Well, foreign troops as foreign troops as a force of occupation, as a force that comes to dictate to us, as a force that comes to go around our country without the will of the Afghan people, of course not, never. But a coalition of the Afghans and the international community, a partnership between the Afghans and the international community towards a noble objective of security for the rest of the world and rebuilding and security for Afghanistan, that is something we welcome, and we have accepted the presence of the international community in Afghanistan in that name and in that spirit.

KING: Can there honestly be a total victory? Many say that this is just another Vietnam. This is an unwinnable war. How do you see it?

KARZAI: We did achieve victory, initially, as I referred to, Larry, in my opening remarks. Subsequently, we didn't do the right things. Certain aspects of rebuilding and strengthening of the Afghan government were neglected. The sanctuaries beyond Afghanistan were not given any attention until it became too late, and then in a hurry, we are trying to do things. Of course, that we will not succeed.

But we will definitely succeed if we use the right political and economic and military approach to this global problem which isn't in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is as much the receiver of the consequences as the United States is. Therefore, for us, for our neighbors in Pakistan, for our other neighbors, for the United States and NATO and indeed the whole international community, to recognize that this is a threat to all and then to focus as one on the problem will get us the result and surely that will be soon as soon as we accomplish the prerequisites for it.

KING: But some say if there's a terrorist born while we're talking -- a terrorist is born somewhere, how can you ever really defeat it totally?

KARZAI: Well, a terrorist as an individual born somewhere is not, I think, the problem. People are driven to violence by circumstances that are brought upon them. In the long term, of course, we all have to pay attention to the plight of those who suffer for various causes that may lead them to terrorism. But right now, we are speaking of a system of obligation, of policy that causes terrorism or violence and that is something that we can address with good diligence and in no long time.

KING: Former Afghan leader, Rabani, has been selected to have a peace a counsel to negotiate with the Taliban. And the obvious question is why are you reaching out to the Taliban? Is that not an acknowledgment that the Taliban cannot be defeated militarily?

KARZAI: The Taliban, those of whom -- who are Afghans and the sons of the Afghans who have been driven to violence by various factors beyond their control and beyond ours caused by circumstances in Afghanistan, we want them to come back to their country. They're like kids who have run away from the family. The family should try to bring them back and give them better discipline and incorporate them back into the family and the society.

President Rabani's as you mean chairmanship today of the peace council is exactly in that spirit. But those who are a part of al Qaeda and the other terrorist networks who are ideologically against us all, who are working against Afghanistan knowingly and out of a purpose of hatred and enmity, those, of course, we have to work against. Whether they're against Afghanistan or whether the al Qaeda and the terrorist were against the United States or our neighbors in Pakistan, those, of course, cannot be accepted.

KING: "Washington Post" is saying that talks are already under way. We'll ask about that right after this.


KING: You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. We're back with President Karzai in Afghanistan. "The Washington Post" is saying, Mr. President, that there are secret high-level talks over negotiations to end the war between your government and the Taliban already under way. How do you respond?

KARZAI: We have been talking to the Taliban as countryman to countryman talk in that manner, not as a regular official contact with the Taliban with effects to address, but rather unofficial personal contacts have been going on for quite some time. Now that the peace council has come into existence, these talks will go on and will go on officially and more rigorously, I hope.

There has also been the peace and stability council that's been working and your -- the chairman of our Senate (INAUDIBLE) that has been a part of talks as well. But no official contacts with a known entity that reports to a body of Taliban that comes back and reports to us regularly, that hasn't happened yet.

And we hope we can begin that as soon as possible. But contacts, of course, have been there between various elements of the Afghan government at the level of community and also at political level.

KING: Can the Saudis play a big part in this?

KARZAI: Yes, Larry. The Saudis can play a very significant role. King Abdullah, his majesty, the king of soldier (ph) can have a very significant role in this whole exercise, and that's what we have been trying for a long time now.

KING: Is it inevitable that the Taliban will have to be allowed some way back into the government?

KARZAI: Well, they're Afghans, and they're part of this country, accepting the Afghan constitution, accepting the programs that we have made in the past so many years, the journey that we have traveled towards a better, more economically well-off, viable Afghanistan. In that context, any Afghan is welcome. This country belongs to all Afghans and the system that we have established, the system of governance that we have established in the past eight years is one that is inclusive of all Afghans.

In other words, Afghanistan is once again the home for all Afghans and the Taliban as Afghans are welcome.

KING: Do we know how many al Qaeda members are actually in Afghanistan? And what are the dangers of them regrouping when the United States leaves?

KARZAI: The al Qaeda is a threat, of course, a terrorist threat to all of us. Someday, they may be a threat to Afghanistan. Some other day, they may be a threat to you in the United States. And that's why we must continue to work against them. I don't really have an exact figure whether there are this many or that many al Qaeda members in Afghanistan.

I think there are very, very few, if any. They find coming to Afghanistan difficult. They find holding themselves in Afghanistan rather more difficult. But surely, they are around the world and in this region and in numbers that can cause danger and threat to us, and we must continue to fight them out.

KING: What do you believe is the story with Osama Bin Laden? It's been nine years. He's not been captured. Where do you think he is? Do you think he's alive?

KARZAI: Well, sir, I find it very difficult to speculate on his whereabouts. I can tell you as much with certainty that he is not in Afghanistan. He's never been here since we removed them from our soil nine years ago. We should all be looking for him. He's causing us all damage, and he's the cause of death to so many innocent people around the world, especially, so many innocent Muslims in this part of the world.

That he, by his preaching and action, causes to suffer and die and get mutilated. It's our human responsibility to get rid of him.

KING: If he is in Pakistan, should they be doing more?

KARZAI: Well, if he is there -- I don't know if he's there, but if he's there, of course.

KING: How does President Karzai assess his relationship with President Obama? We'll ask him about that when LARRY KING LIVE returns. Don't go away.


KING: This is a special edition of Larry King Live. We're very happy to have as our guest Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, coming to us from the palace in Kabul. President Obama, as we know, is going to draw down United States troops in your country next summer. What is your relationship with him and are you worried that the United States might abandon you?

KARZAI: This is a very important question. Relations with President Obama are very good. We have regular contact. We just had a video conference about five days ago. The relation with the U.S. government is generally good. There is a strategic relationship between us. Partnerships toward an objective that's security for us and security for the United States and the rest of the world.

On distinct power of the United States and Afghanistan, the Afghan people have been abandoned before when we fought the Soviets, well, be (ph) defeated communism and the Soviets. The international community supported us. But then after their defeat, we were abandoned and forgotten immediately, including by the United States. Now, that fear lingers on in the Afghan people.

It's something that I've not been able to reassure the Afghan people. And I hope the United States of America and our other allies will help us through good means, so we can reassure the Afghan people that this partnership is staying and that Afghanistan will emerge after this current transition into a better country, a better economy and a more stronger, effective state.

KING: Mr. President, some say it might have been a mistake for the president of the United States to signal a drawdown from your country next summer because that only emboldens the enemy. How do you react to that?

KARZAI: Well, Afghanistan likes to continue together with the international community to bring security to all of us and to continue to build the institutions in Afghanistan. I have been given an assurance by President Obama just last week that this continuity of Support to Afghanistan will be there and that the United States will continue to help build Afghan military institutions, the security institutions and contribute to our economy. And I hope that is what we are going to see.

KING: He assured you of that beyond July?

KARZAI: That will certainly also go on beyond July of 2011, yes, sir.

KING: Would a long-term presence be good for your country? I'm talking like real long term. KARZAI: We will be happy with a relationship with the United States that brings more stability and economic well-being to Afghanistan that will also bring us more educated capacity to this country. A presence that should not be a threat to any other country in this region, that other countries in the region will understand and appreciate in which the United States will also benefit by the means that it seeks to benefit.

Yes, with those things in mind, definitely, we seek and we support such a presence, and it will be good for Afghanistan.

KING: We'll have more with the president. We'll ask about Afghan troops ever being able to take full control of their country right after this break.


KING: You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. It's always a great pleasure to talk with world leaders, and we continue that concept on this program by speaking with Hamid Karzai from Kabul, Afghanistan. What's your relationship personally and otherwise with President Obama?

KARZAI: My personal relationship with President Obama is very, very good. I have a lot of respect for him. And he's the president of the United States, a great nation. We have a good relation and a respect for one another.

KING: We know that you liked working with General McChrystal. What is it like with General Petraeus?

KARZAI: Well, General McChrystal and I had a very good relationship because he was very clear and honest with me and with the Afghan people. I will never forget one day when he called me around 9:30 in the evening to say, Mr. President, I have let you down. There was a civilian casualty. And that was highly regarded by the Afghan people and respected.

With General Petraeus, I have developed a very good relationship as well. As a matter of fact, we were together yesterday on a trip to Kandahar. So, this relationship is working very well as well. I just want in this relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, especially for the U.S. military, to make sure that in the war on terror, the Afghan people don't suffer. That there are no civilian casualties. With that given to us, we are a tolerant people and a very friendly people.

KING: Will the Afghan troops be able to take full control for security in your country, say, by -- you said it's determined to happen by 2014. Do you think that's logical?

KARZAI: Yes. We are working hard towards that objective. The Afghan people, the Afghan security forces given good training and getting good equipment, and will make very good soldiers. We are a very brave people as is known in history. So, that element is in the Afghan nation given good training, good equipment. The Afghan forces will be able to defend the country extremely well.

KING: With all of the factions, can democracy work in Afghanistan?

KARZAI: Yes. Democracy is working well in Afghanistan. Afghanistan traditionally is a country of consultations, the word Jerga, the word Loya Jerga that's now famous around the world is an Afghan tradition. It is an Afghan way of life. And Afghans traditionally are egalitarian people. In egalitarian societies, you do have individuals expressing opinion and consultation taking place.

Now, in the modern sense of it, like you have practiced democracy in the West, like India had made a great success of it, Afghanistan, too, who began this journey nine years ago, has done very, very well in spite of the troubles, against all odds. The Afghan people have come out to vote and have elected their, you know, representatives to the parliament. The presidential elections were there.

This country will go forward as a strong, good democracy, because essentially the Afghan people want it. And that is an element in us.

KING: How do you react to the allegations, rather serious, about -- about, well, your administration dealing with corruption? How do you answer those charges? Are they being investigated? What's happening overall in that area?

KARZAI: Well, Afghanistan has been going through 30 years of wars, upheavals, interferences. You name a trouble, Afghanistan has been facing it. Hundreds of thousands of our educated left for Europe and our neighborhood when the Soviets came. Some of them have returned. Some of them have not. And we saw a period of almost 30 years where we could not educate our people. Our youngsters were left without education.

Only eight years ago, we began to reeducate our people from primary school to university and beyond. So there is a serious lack of capacity in Afghanistan. And with that -- the rest of the world, millions of dollars came. Naturally, there was lack of capacity. There was also the high probability of corruption, within the Afghan government and also within the manner in which help was given to Afghanistan by the international community. The dispensation of that help was not very transparent -- is not very transparent.

This is something that we are working with our partners in the international community. So to put it in very short words, there is the problem of corruption in Afghanistan, both in the Afghan government and in the manner the international community gives us assistance, contracts, subcontracts and the lack of transparency. Those are the problems that we are facing. And those are the problems that we should handle on the Afghan side by me, by our government, by the Afghan people, and on the international side by our partners.

KING: We'll do more on that right after this word. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We're back with President Karzai. How do you react -- there's a recent report that your brother, Mahmoud Karzai, is the focus of an investigation by federal prosecutors in New York City. What do you know about that? How concerned are you?

KARZAI: Well, he is a U.S. citizen, while he's an Afghan. As far as his citizenship and his U.S. duties are concerned, that's between him and the United States. But I have asked him about this. He said there is some taxes that he has to pay or -- I believe he has already paid them. He was a very successful businessman in America, someone that as a brother and as an individual I have very high respect for.

When the Soviets were in Afghanistan, when I was a student in India, he worked hard in the United States as a waiter and then he started a restaurant. And he helped me with my education. He's a brave, helping person.

Whether -- if the investigations are true and what the U.S. Justice Department says is real, then he has to fulfill his responsibilities as a U.S. citizen. But if this is done to bring pressure on me, as it has been in the past with regard to my other brother and family members, then it will not impact me because I will continue to work for Afghanistan the way I see fit, as the national interest of Afghanistan dictates.

KING: One other thing in that area, your half brother, Ahmad, he's a power broker in Kandahar. He has denied accusations of any ties to the drug trade. What do you make of that?

KARZAI: That has been going on for almost seven years, and I've been repeatedly talking and asking all sorts of government agencies in the United States, from the CIA to the Defense Department to the State Department to all others who are concerned. They've always told me that they have no evidence, that this is all hearsay and perception.

And just about a month ago, I saw a letter sent by the Justice Department to a lawyer that my brother hired. In that letter, they said that they have no case or investigation or file on him. I can fax you that letter. You can see it and make your interpretation from that.

KING: One other thing in that area, at least six of your relatives operate or are linked to contracting businesses that collect millions of dollars from the American government. That was a report in "the New York Times." Is that part of your -- how do you respond to that?

KARZAI: Well, we have been talking to the U.S. government on the contracts that they issue. This is a serious matter and a matter that is of concern to us in Afghanistan. We want all the contracts to be made public. And I will be especially unhappy if there are any contracts given to relatives of government officials or the government officials themselves. This is an area of serious concern, especially because of the possibility of corruption in it, where there are hundreds of millions of dollars spent. So that is an area of serious concern for us. And we have been in contact with the U.S. government on these contracts.

KING: Back to Pakistan --

KARZAI: They are given against our knowledge and without our consultation.

KING: I understand. Shouldn't your country be doing more pressure on Pakistan? Senator Lindsay Graham had this to say, "it's frustrating to go to Afghanistan and know that 30 kilometers across the border, the Taliban are roaming around in a Pakistan village with impunity. That's got to change." Are you putting more pressure on Pakistan?

KARZAI: We have more contact with our neighbors in Pakistan. The relations between us and Pakistan are growing stronger and better. There is better understanding between us and Pakistan on the issues affecting both countries. Of course, we know where the origins of the problem are. And this is something that we have been frank in talking about through direct contacts with our friends and brothers in Pakistan.

I hope also the United States will engage Pakistan equally effectively and usefully on all these questions, and also between the three of us. I wish to see much more effectiveness and transparency of action on terrorism and on the sanctuaries. But I can tell you with confidence that between us and Pakistan relations are better and with more clarity on these questions of concern to us. Let's hope that we get the right results at the end of the day.

KING: We'll talk with the president about his country's relationship with Iran right after this.


KING: We're back with President Karzai. Your country shares a long border with Iran and you seem to have a pretty good relationship with Ahmadinejad, its president. Do you consider him a friend? Tell us about that. He is not held fondly in the United States.

KARZAI: Iran is a neighbor of Afghanistan. We share the same religion and the same literature and language. We were neighbors for centuries and we will remain neighbors for the coming life. Ahmadinejad is the president of Iran. And Iran and Afghanistan have had good relations the past nine years in particular. We have tried our best to have the best situation between our two allies, one as a neighbor, the other one, the United States, as a partner and an ally and a great contributor to Afghanistan's reconstruction.

And we hope this partnership with the United States and -- between the United States and Afghanistan will be one that Iran will not see with concern. And at the same time, we hope that our neighborhood and our neighborly relations with Iran are not seen in any other way by our friends and partners in the United States. KING: How about the story that authorities in your country, southwestern Afghanistan, seized 19 tons of explosive devices transferred from the border in Iran? Is that an effort by Iran to interfere with coalition efforts?

KARZAI: Well, events like that, discoveries like that, news like that emerging from our neighbors, whether it's Pakistan or Iran, is of concern to us, of course. And this is an issue that we have talked with our neighbors and will continue to talk to our neighbors. And I hope we will be able to resolve this transport of explosive materials and arms and ammunition to Afghanistan or from Afghanistan -- if it's happening. This is an ongoing headache for all of us and I hope we can resolve it.

KING: Have you talked about it with Ahmadinejad?

KARZAI: We have discussed all these issues repeatedly between us, bilaterally and also in multilateral neighborhood discussions and meetings.

KING: We'll have some more moments with the president of Afghanistan following this.


KARZAI: We're back with President Karzai. We thank him so much for giving us this entire program tonight. And we'll get to a delicate area. In his recent book "Obama's Wars" -- I want to get this right -- Bob Woodward says that you were diagnosed as a manic depressive. He writes that sensitive intelligence reports on you claim you are sometimes the delusional, sometimes don't take your medication. Is that true? Are you a manic depressive? Do you take medication for it? Had to be asked.

KARZAI: The only -- yes. The only medication that I've taken is an antibiotic called Augmentin, the strongest ones that I have taken, when I had a bad cold two years ago. And from time to time, I take multivitamins. And, of course, a popular medicine in the U.S., Tylenol, is something that I use from time to time when I have a headache or when I'm tired.

KARZAI: What do you make of the stories then about your being a manic depressive -- which is by the way, a common disease. Millions of people around the world have it -- and being delusional? What does that come from?

KARZAI: Like -- like -- like -- like all other stories.

KING: Not true?

KARZAI: Oh, definitely not. Rather funny.

KING: You recently, Mr. President, you broke down in tears talking about the human cost of war. What does that do to you every day? KARZAI: Yes. Well, this is a sad thing. This is an agony that I have. The worry for Afghan children is something that's constant on my mind and that's, indeed, a very emotional issue for me. And look, sir, when the Soviets came to Afghanistan, the elite of the country and the countryside and villagers of this country were all torn out of their homes. We lost nearly two million people to war. Hundreds of thousands of our children suffered.

They remained uneducated. They are refugees. My own family, like millions of all other families, are scattered around the world. Some are in the U.S. Some are in Pakistan. Some are in Germany. Some are I don't know where. And that's the story of every Afghan household. And for us to have a country that we call our own, that we can call our own, we must put ourselves together and work hard and make sure that our children don't suffer the suffering that our parents did, that we in our generation did, and that, indeed, three Afghan generations went through.

And that is a very serious issue, an issue for me and, indeed, for our people. That makes me -- that charges me highly. That makes me angry. It makes me very emotional. And I'm glad that sense of emotion is with me, so I can be driven forcefully towards a better Afghanistan.

KING: We'll have our remaining moments with President Karzai after this.


KING: We have a short time remaining, Mr. President. A couple of other quick things. What is the progress in the capture, if that be the word, of the amount of drugs in your country? Are you trying to stop that?

KARZAI: Well, drug cultivation is, again, a problem that our country has been facing for the last three decades, and increasingly so. I know people, personally, in parts of the country, who have destroyed their vineyards and pomegranate orchards in order to turn them into poppy fields because they're easy to grow, easy to harvest, easy to sell.

Afghanistan will continue to suffer. (INAUDIBLE) is not sure about its future. For us, there's insecurity and interference in our country. We have worked very, very hard in the past nine years to reduce the cultivation of poppy. We have almost completely (INAUDIBLE) to a considerable extent to reduce poppies in 24 of our provinces. Of 34, we've reduced it in 24 of our provinces. And we continue to work this together with our international community partners.

But I hope in this regard that there will be more coordination from our partners, with us, too, and that there will be a stronger effort internationally to -- for interdiction and work against the international mafia. We only get the bad name in Afghanistan. We get disreputed for it while the money goes elsewhere. So there is no incentive for us to have poppies. It's only bad for us. KING: Thank you for giving us this time, Mr. President. Great pleasure. We'll do it again soon, I hope.

KARZAI: Definitely. Good to talk to you.

KING: That was President Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, from the palace in Kabul.

Tomorrow night, the former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. Thursday night, George Clooney. Now, "AC 360" and Anderson Cooper.