Tom Brokaw: President Karzai, I gather that the developments in the Jirga are going according to schedule. If you had to be your most optimistic, when do you think we’ll have nationwide presidential elections?
Hamid Karzai: Well, the way it looks today and yesterday in the Loya Jirga and the way the elections for the members of the Loya Jirga went on last month and the month before that, umm, we should be quite nicely ready for elections in Afghanistan. We are targeting summer of 2004, that’s June/July for elections of the President. Let’s hope we can reach it. We will try very hard.
Brokaw: Long time students of Afghanistan, as you know, say Afghanistan may have a presidential election, but the power will always stay with the warlords because they have been there much longer than democracy.
Karzai: Uh, it will not be like that. It is not like that. Once the Afghan people vote and they choose their President with direct, secret ballot from all over the country, there will be a lot of difference in this country and a lot of legitimate power to flow with implementation.
Military presence needed
Brokaw: And will the United States and other western powers need to maintain a strong military presence in Afghanistan for many years to come, even though you have your own presidential elections?
Karzai: Absolutely, because Afghanistan has to stand on its own feet before the forces that are helping us in Afghanistan with security, reconstruction can afford to withdraw. They are helping us build our army, build our police, build other institutions. Until we have those institutions, we will need them, and right now, it looks like they will be with us.
Brokaw: When we last saw each other here in New York, you told me that the United States should provide Afghanistan with at least another 20 billion dollars to rebuild your infrastructure—bridges and roads and airports and sanitation systems. How are you doing with the Bush Administration with that request?
Karzai: Well, the administration of President Bush is helping Afghanistan. It considers Afghanistan a place of importance to them. We have been given 1.6 billion dollars—more than that, actually—and the Congress of the United States also added some more money to it, and the U.S. administration has given us a very good road project—the reconstruction of a major highway. President Bush has sent us a very, very good ambassador—Ambassador Khalilzad—somebody that he trusts, and has given power to act here in Afghanistan. With all this going on, I’m very confident the United States will stay with Afghanistan and help us in whatever way we can. Whether the world together with the United States can give us the 20 billion dollars we have asked for is something I cannot tell you now. But that is our demand, and I hope that demand will be looked at favorably.
Brokaw: At the same time, critics of your rule say that poppy production now is at an all-time high. That is a source of heroin. And while you’re presiding in Kabul, the Taliban are making their presence known once again in the south—so you do have trouble on those two fronts.
Karzai: We have a serious trouble, no doubt, with regard to narcotics, and in my opening remarks to the Loya Jirga yesterday, I addressed the delegates on this question in a very straightforward manner. This is a struggle that we have to win. We cannot allow this country to be influenced by mafia and narcotics-related activities. It kills our economy. It destroys our reputation. So we are going to work against it. With regard to the Taliban, we don’t see them as a challenge. They’re not there. Terrorism is there. It affects us. It tries to stop our reconstruction. But that is a battle that we are going to win.
Brokaw: Mr. President, a spokesman for your foreign ministry said today that the capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq will make it easier now to capture Osama Bin Laden. How are those two events linked in your mind?
Karzai: The capture of Saddam Hussein has proven to the bad ones, to the guilty ones, to the sinful ones that they cannot run forever. Sooner or later, the other criminals will also be found from their hideouts. Osama, Mullah Omar, or whoever. That is something good that the capture of Saddam Hussein has proven to the people.
Brokaw: Mr. President, if Saddam Hussein is put on trial, and then sentenced to death, how will the Islamic world react to that?
Karzai: That’s a judicial process. What matters here is the correctness of the judicial process. Through a proper judicial process, justice can be done and shall be accepted.
Brokaw: And do you think that the Iraqi people now are capable of mounting that kind of a judicial process against Saddam Hussein?
Karzai: I hope so. In this case, I can only hope so, because I’m not very much aware of the situation inside Iraq. What I can say is that I hope they will have a good judicial process, and I hope very much and I wish the Iraqi people to have a government that they like through elections and through democracy and to do well, and stop terrorism effecting their life.
Brokaw: Mr. President, thank you very much.
Karzai: Thank you very much, Mr. Brokaw.