The face of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was shining with confidence and satisfaction when he received a limited number of Arab press representatives at the Jolkhana Palace in Kabul city centre on Friday.
The name of this building means "the house of flowers." It was built by King Ahmad Shah Babar 300 years ago on an area of 280 feddans. The Afghan President was pleased with the confidence of the Afghan people, who gave him a 54.6 percent of a total of 10 million votes. This gave him legitimacy in the first democratic election in his country.
Karzai talked about his country”s openness to the world, particularly Arab and Islamic countries, and focused on Saudi Arabia as the key to the heart of the Islamic world. He referred to his repeated visits to Saudi Arabia and his special relations with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and
the Saudi Crown Prince. He noted that Saudi Arabia was the first country that he has visited after becoming president and stressed the strong ties that link Afghan and Saudi Arabia. He pointed out that he looks forward to more cooperation between the two countries in order to serve stability
and reconstruction in his country. He added: We look forward to visiting Saudi Arabia next month to attend the Jeddah Economic Forum.
President Karzai”s welcome of the Arab press representatives eased the impact of the strict security measures experienced by the Arab journalists, who were searched three times by his well-built US guards before they were allowed to enter the palace”s main hall. Cameras and recording equipment received the biggest share of sniffing by the K-9 dogs that are trained to detect explosives before the equipment was allowed into the Afghan presidential palace.
President Karzai”s guards are justified in enforcing such strict security measures. Al-Qa”ida Organization assassinated Ahmad Shah Mas”ud, leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance, using a camera loaded with explosives and carried by two Arabs who posed as journalists on 9 September, two days before September 11th events.
President Karzai said that Al-Qa”ida has hijacked Afghanistan. He noted that the Afghan security forces, which are chasing Al-Qa”ida leader Usama Bin Ladin, will arrest him one day, even if the Americans get tired, and will put him on trial for the destruction and killings that he has committed in Afghanistan. He added that he does not know where Bin
Ladin is, noting that he might be hiding on the Pakistani side of the border or inside Pakistani territory, considering that most of the apprehended Al-Qa”ida leaders were found in Pakistani cities. Karzai pointed out that Bin Ladin had come to his country as a Muslim fighting the Russians then he shifted to killing innocent Afghans and destroying Afghanistan. He added, "The Afghan Arabs were supposed to leave
Afghanistan after years of fighting the Russians, but they didn”t. Instead, they came to this poor country and set up training camps."
Karzai noted that the mosques that disagreed with Al-Qa”ida did not escape destruction. He pointed out that he would like to ask Bin Ladin one question: What is the reason that prompted him to kill the innocent Afghan people? What is it that prompted him to kill and torture the elderly and destroy the mosques?
Karzai explained that the stability of the security situation is a major priority for him. Responding to a question from Asharq Al-Awsat, Karzai denied that Taliban represents a source of threat inside the country. He pointed out that his goal is to establish a strong and harmonious army made up of 70,000 troops that represent all ethnic groups. He has trained 20,000 troops so far.
Another goal, he said, is to establish a strong police force made up of 80,000 personnel who can stand up to the narcotics mafia and establish law and order throughout the country.
The US Presence is Not Occupation
Karzai denied that the US presence in his country is for the purpose of occupation or that the US troops have come to Afghanistan for this purpose. The Americans, he emphasized, came to help the Afghan people in all domains and not to occupy us. He stressed that the coalition forces will leave his country when it is able to defend itself. He pointed out
that the Arabs have a historic opportunity to improve their image, which has been distorted by Bin Ladin and Al-Qa”ida leaders, by contributing more efforts to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan and building bridges of trust toward a better future with Kabul. He added,
"We look forward for the Arabs to rebuild Afghanistan, which is an Islamic state and that wishes to live in harmony with the outside world."
In response to a question from Asharq Al-Awsat, President Karzai revealed that two Arab prisoners, one Saudi and the other possible Egyptian, are held in Afghan prisons. He denied any deal with Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, who cooperated with the coalition forces but declined to disclose his location to Asharq Al-Awsat.
Karzai said that Afghanistan had entered a new era after its first presidential election. He stressed that there is no return to internal conflict or the domination of the country by warlords.
At the beginning of his commentary, the Afghan President noted that while in Europe he had learned about his country”s affairs through Asharq Al-Awsat. He added that the Arab journalists had brought the snow to the capital with them, which is a good omen.
Karzai noted that for 23 years his country suffered from wars that ravaged the country and destroyed most of the cities. He pointed out that luck had placed his country at the centre of conflict between two superpowers during the Cold War era. As a result, his country was occupied by the Soviets and six million Afghans immigrated to the neighboring countries.
Karzai disclosed that during the war with the Soviets he used to talk to representatives of the Western countries, but they treated us as if we were extremists. He noted that the right-wing extremism that followed the left-wing extremism has distanced Afghanistan from its national values and its sense of identity. He described the disbanded Taliban as a movement that does not represent the general Afghan public. He noted
that despite their cruelty, extremism, and the sense of fear that they installed in people”s hearts, he has forgiven them for his country”s sake.
He noted that few members of Taliban are accused of terrorism, similar to Al-Qa”ida leaders. He explained that the Taliban had attained power in Afghanistan with the support of Pakistan, adding that Islamabad promoted the fundamentalist Taliban regime while the West did not know what the Afghans wanted.
He revealed that he had maintained regular contacts with Afghan leader Ahmad Shah Masud, who was assassinated by Al-Qa”ida two days before the September 2001 attacks. He added that after entering Afghanistan on 5 October 2001 he traveled to Kandahar, where a Pashto leader and mullah,
who taught the Taliban leaders, welcomed him into his home for three days. There, he met with leaders affiliated to the Taliban Movement and had a discussion with them. The leaders wanted change and were convinced that Afghanistan was not in the hands of the Afghan people but was instead
run by Pakistan. He disclosed that the Pashtun leaders that he had met at his secret hideout in Kandahar before the US attacks asked him if he had western support. They wanted me to ask the Americans to bombard the headquarters of the Taliban and Mullah Umar, but I refused.
Karzai noted that he had been shocked by their request. He strongly objected to the request to bombard the headquarters of the fundamentalist movement in Kandahar.
Karzai explained that those whom he had met at his hideout
wanted to be free of Taliban”s grip, but at the same time they wanted to know the extent of external support. He added, "They let me stay with them before the operations and they protected me. I also met with other people, including the brother of the Taliban Justice Minister named Mullah Abdelrahim. I met him twice or three times and he did not report me. As an act of incitement against Taliban, they tried to convince me that I was wrong not to request the Americans to bombard the Taliban headquarters so that they could turn against the Taliban."
Continuing, President Karzai added, "After 10 days I traveled to the mountains after the Taliban had discovered my presence outside Kandahar. I had approximately 100 fighters with me. After 20 days I was in a remote village in Oruzgan district when news came that the Afghans had seized Oruzgan and expelled the Taliban”s representative Mulla Jilani. The
country was liberated in less than a month because people did not side with Taliban and were against their values. He disclosed that a Taliban commander had come to him after the escape of Mullah Umar from Kandahar requesting a letter guaranteeing his life and the life of his men as they cross from Grozny to Kandahar. I facilitated his trip and nobody
Successful Elections by Any Standards
Turning to the recent presidential elections in Afghanistan, Karzai said that by any standards, they were successful. He added that he still remembers how an Afghan elderly, aged 105 years, voted in the election.
When the man arrived at the polling station in Nangarhar he talked to the international press. He said that he had enjoyed three historic moments in his life: Afghanistan”s liberation from the British in 1919, his marriage, and his participation in the first democratic election in the country.
Karzai noted that he holds regular weekly meetings with ministers, officials, and representatives of the Loya Jirga (National Assembly) to discuss the upcoming parliamentary elections sometime between April and May this year. Karzai expressed pleasure for the international donations for the reconstruction of Afghanistan but added that his country awaits more donations. He noted that his country will be proud to see more Arab investments in Afghanistan to ease the suffering of the Afghan people.
For this reason, he is in constant contact with the Arab leaders. He explained that the ordinary Afghans want strong relations with the Arab and Islamic countries, adding that his country suffers from poverty and seeks more hospitals, schools, and medical clinics in remote areas.
Regarding Egypt, Karzai said that Afghanistan is part of the Islamic world and he called on Egyptian President Mubarak to send an ambassador to Kabul, as "poor" Afghanistan has done by sending an ambassador to Cairo. He added that he wants full diplomatic ties with Cairo and said that Egypt”s cultural and educational role represented by Al-Azhar University, the oldest Islamic school, is undeniable. He noted that scores of Afghans who had graduated from Al-Azhar and other Egyptian universities occupy positions of responsibility in Afghanistan. He noted that his father, a Pashto leader, used to collect donations for Egypt during the 1956 Suez War.
At the beginning of his meeting with representatives of the Arab press, President Karzai said that during his stay in Europe Asharq Al-Awsat was his guide to becoming aware of what was happening in the Arab and Islamic world and the events in Afghanistan before he sneaked into Kandahar, along
with a few Pashtun elements, on 5 October 2001 to lead the resistance against Taliban.
When asked why he wears a green cloak on official occasions, Karzai said that it is called the Shaban and it comes from Khost. It reflects national unity. As for the hat, it is called Karakul and is worn by civil servants. It is a social, not an ethnic, symbol and it is made of goatskin.