Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president who has been a major ally of the US in its “war on terror”, has admitted there is tension between his government and Washington.
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera’s David Frost, Karzai said that he has never spoken to Barack Obama, the US president, since he took office.
The following are highlights of the interview with Al Jazeera’s David Frost on issues that have caused friction between Kabul and Washington:
Al Jazeera: Last night Richard Holbrooke, president Obama’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, arrived in Kabul. Have you met with him yet?
Hamid Karzai: I will be meeting with him tomorrow. He is busy today meeting with other Afghans.
You had a very good relationship with president Bush. Are you hopeful of having a similar relationship – maybe without the video conferences – with president Obama?
Of course, why not? I had a very good relationship with President Bush who was a great friend of mine and a man that helped Afghanistan so much.
All that we have here today is because of the help that President Bush and his administration and the American people offered and that help is continuing.
Afghanistan still enjoys bi-partisan support from the US. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are backing Afghanistan.
President Obama is a great inspiration not only to the American people but to millions of people around the world. The American people have proven to be pioneers of change and innovation, political as well, around the world.
We respect that tremendously, and I very much hope we have as good a relationship with Obama as we had with Bush. It is a relationship between two people, between two countries.
Have you spoken to President Obama since he took office?
I have not spoken to him since he took office. I spoke to him shortly before he took office.
There is a crisis at the moment – isn’t there? – between America and Hamid Karzai’s government?
Yes, yes, there’s. Well, let me put this in three parts. First point, there is a tension between us and the US government on issues of civilian casualties, arrests of Afghans, nightly raids on homes and the casualties that they cause.
We are negotiating and, as a matter of fact, we agreed on a deal which is a very good thing in putting more consultation with Afghans and having Afghans participate in decision-making on issues like that.
That I hope once implemented, and implemented correctly, will bring about a lot of improvement for the spirit of the Afghan people. This is a matter that I have to do in the interests of the Afghan people, their safety and security, and the interests also of the war against terrorism and in the interests of the American people and the goodwill that the Afghan people have for them.
This has caused some anger in Washington – I can understand that. This has caused also leaks and rumours to emerge in the British and American media and mostly about myself and about the government. I understand it but this will happen.
But I have to pursue my line, I have to campaign for an end to civilian casualties and for an end to the arrest of Afghans because we are a sovereign country, the Afghan people expect their government to protect them and to stand for them.
On civilian casualties let me say one thing more, Sir David, families here are like families all over the world. Our children are also as precious to us as children in any other country.
When I saw President Obama and Joe Biden, the vice-president, and their opponents in the election – senator McCain and governor Palin – appear on platforms with their presentations and big ideas on elections with families, with children, with babies, this was a great great thing. I really liked that and respected that a lot.
But at the same time Afghan children were dying in bombardments – babies, children. So I guess our American friends must understand that we have emotions too, we have sentiments, we get hurt and we have to defend when we feel we are right to defend ourselves.
On the question of the narco state, secretary Clinton is a tremendously good person. I have immense respect for her. I have worked with her before. She understands the situation very very well. She has not made that statement.
People are attributing it to her wrongly and Afghanistan is not a narco-state because Afghanistan doesn’t benefit from the money that narcotics generate in Afghanistan.
If Afghanistan uses the money narcotics generated, Afghanistan would be a very, very rich country. Afghanistan would be among the richest in the world. It generates perhaps $50bn to $60bn to $100bn.
Imagine if Afghanistan had that money. It would not be in need of help from the rest of the world; it would not be so miserable as it is today.
We are the poorest country in the world. Our revenues are hardly a billion dollars a year, all of our revenues put together, so how can we be a narco state if we are so miserably poor? And how can we be a narco state if we are in need of help from the rest of the world?
That said, Afghanistan appreciates the relationship with our partners and would like to continue this relationship in dignity and respect and would hope that our position at times especially on public safety are understood.
Someone said that you’re looking exhausted. Do you think that you’re tired or exhausted by the sheer pressures of the last four and a half years?
Yeah, well I am tired. I am exhausted. I get very little time to spend with myself. It’s constant daily non-ending activity in Afghanistan. The work is very, very hard. I’ve done it; I’m glad that I’ve kept our country together and Afghanistan has become the home of all Afghans and a lot has been achieved. So, yes, in a way that is true – I am tired and exhausted, no doubt.