Afghan President Hamid Karzai (right) sits down with RFE/RL's Akbar Ayazi in Kabul on November 26 Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he has two demands before he'll sign a Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States and that he'll approve the document as soon as those demands are met -- despite saying earlier he would wait until his country's presidential election is completed in April 2014. RFE/RL's Akbar Ayazi sat down with Karzai in Kabul for an exclusive interview to discuss the Afghan president's views.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, you called a consultative Loya Jirga to consider the Bilateral Security Agreement negotiated with the United States. Now that the Jirga has concluded, are you happy with its recommendations and have you achieved what you intended to get from it?
Hamid Karzai: The Afghans now want to conclude an agreement with the United States, and the Loya Jirga has done well in backing it. We consider this agreement to be in the interests of Afghans. But our condition is to ensure the protection of Afghan homes. The Americans should stop attacks against Afghan homes. Another condition is peace in Afghanistan. If we don’t have peace, this agreement will turn into a disaster for Afghanistan instead of a blessing.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, the Loya Jirga has recommended adding 36 new clauses to the draft security agreement. One of the clauses recommends that you sign the agreement before the end of this year. The head of the Loya Jirga [former president Sibghatullah Mojadiddi] also demanded the same from you. So are you going to add these new clauses and sign the agreement before the end of 2013?
Karzai: I have demanded an end to all American attacks against Afghan homes and the beginning of a realistic peace process. Whenever the Americans meet these two demands of mine, I am ready to sign the agreement. And when these two demands are implemented, this agreement is in Afghanistan's interests. On the issue of elections, last night the U.S. national security adviser [Susan Rice] assured me that America is not going to interfere in the elections and that it wants the elections to be conducted on time. In addition, if possible, it wants to see the elections concluded in the first round and even if it goes into a second round [they are committed to back the process.] They have assured me about this. But I will see what happens.
RFE/RL: Are you saying that Susan Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, has assured you the United States will help in holding free and fair elections?
Karzai: I talked to the U.S. national security adviser about this and I explained to her the situation during the previous presidential election. I briefed her about how America and other Western nations interfered in the previous presidential election, how they delayed the election, how they maligned the first round ballot. Keeping in view that experience, and as the president of Afghanistan today, it is my duty not to allow foreigners to either malign Afghanistan's next presidential election or stretch the process so that they can manipulate it. She assured me that this time there will be no interference in our election. So for now, I have her assurance. But I am watching them to see whether they interfere in the election or not. And I will talk about it then.
RFE/RL: In your speech during the Loya Jirga, you demanded an end to operations or attacks against Afghan homes, help with conducting free and fair presidential elections, and support for a meaningful peace process. But it has been reported that in your talks with the U.S. national security adviser, you demanded the freeing of 17 prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. Is that true? What did you demand?
Karzai: This was a demand made by the jirga. If you look at the 29th clause of their recommendations, it says that America should release all Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo Bay immediately and hand them over to Afghanistan. So if the Americans want to implement the recommendations of the Loya Jirga, and one of the clauses that the Loya Jirga has recommended is an immediate signing of the security agreement, then they cannot ignore this other clause that demands the freeing of Afghan prisoners. Such things are not acceptable.
RFE/RL: In your view, why are the Americans insisting on signing this agreement soon?
Karzai: The Americans have their own agenda and their own plans. Whatever is behind their programs or their plans is up to them. But we Afghans need to have our own plans. We showed the Americans that Afghanistan wants friendship and an alliance with them. We are not against them. But in this friendship and alliance with the United States, the Afghans want to protect Afghanistan's interests. We don't want to stand against American interests. But we want to protect our homeland. And what are our homeland's interests? Our interest is to protect the homes of the Afghans from American attacks, night raids, and the unnecessary suffering of our people so that Afghan women and children are not forced to abandon their homes at night because of fears of American bombs and helicopters. You know well that in Afghanistan during the past few years people have taken their women and children to the mountains just to protect them from American attacks at night. It is impossible to have a security agreement with America while our people are still forced to leave their homes because of the fear of American forces. So if America wants to conclude a security agreement with us, America needs to respect the security of Afghan homes and let the Afghan children, men, and women live in their homes in security.