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Transcript: President Karzai Speaks at Wilson Center

"How to Overcome Afghanistan's Security Challenges"

President Hamid Karzai

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mr. Lee Hamilton, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, my good old friend Ambassador Milam who, during his ambassadorship in Islamabad, was always there to receive me and advise me and to help me and to listen to me.

I'm happy that I still to deserve to be invited to a center so distinguished as yours, Mr Hamilton. Indeed, the Afghan story seven years on is one of achievements, no doubt; one of hope for further progress, no doubt; and one of challenges and difficulties of a great nature, no doubt.

What is it that we've done right in Afghanistan in the last seven years? What is it that we failed to recognize in time in Afghanistan in the past seven years? What is it that can cause us serious trouble if we don't pay the right attention as we move forward?

The achievements, you all know about, but nonetheless I have to talk about, because they are important - not only for Afghanistan, but also for the contribution that you the American people have made to those achievements. Your taxpayer money has been spent on this, billions of dollars of taxpayers money. Among the best of our achievements is that the American government helped Afghanistan after the incidents of September 11, it brought back liberation to Afghanistan. Afghanistan was an occupied country, occupied by terrorists, by Al-Qaeda and their friends the Taliban, and by a neighboring power. A hidden sort of occupation. Afghanistan was miserably poor. Almost no education, especially none for girls and the women of Afghanistan. Afghanistan had not even a kilometer of paved roads; all were destroyed. Afghanistan was among the worst countries, at the bottom of the bottom of all on healthcare and child mortality; maternity care was almost zero. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans who had no income for a small illness would go to Pakistan or Iran. There was no treatment even for a common cold, not even for a common cold.

I remember in my days in the central parts of Afghanistan, a day when I was moving away from the provincial capital of the Uruzgan province where the night before someone informed me that a lot of foreign terrorist elements, the Taliban, were going to attack us in the village where I was staying. So the advice from the villagers was to leave that place so the villagers would not get hurt and so I would not get hurt. Because we would not be able to resist a force like that. So we moved out into another village, and in the morning, by sunrise moved down on foot to a far off place that took us almost 10 hours to reach and we were walking through a beautiful valley, extremely beautiful valley, resembling the canyons - not that high but something like that.

Along the journey we kept going from this end to that end of the river, and at one point we were on top of the mountain, me and my five or six companions and a local guide. And I saw down there on the bank of the river, a woman sitting by the river, and a man kind of playing with the water, washing his hands or whatever. And I was very surprised. There's no life, there were no villages or people, and I asked my guide, "Why are those people there? How come are they there?" He said, "Well maybe they are from a village about two hours from here." I said, "Yes, but what are they doing?" He said, "Maybe that's his wife, maybe she is ill and maybe the husband is taking her to the hospital in the central province from where we had come."

Now, we had journeyed from nine that evening, slept for a few hours, then all day and then up on our feet again for another five or six hours. That means, they had a journey for an ill woman to go another five or six, for her it could have been 11 hours of a journey, in those rugged mountains so that maybe she's taken to a hospital. Okay, we kept going, the story finished when the population reported the town was taken from the Taliban, we went there, and the next morning we were attacked. We had the wounded, and I took the wounded to a hospital. Inside the hospital there was nothing but a few bottles of alcohol and cotton. So this sick woman was taken a month ago to a place like that for treatment. Did she have serious illness, did she have a cold, a minor illness? Whatever it was, that was not the place for her to get treatment. Is she alive today? I don't know. Did she have a chance to go to another hospital? I don't know.

Now, today. When we began in 2001 and 2002 Afghanistan could only provide 9 percent of its population with some form of health service, basic, totally basic, meaning cotton and alcohol. Today we have crossed 85 percent of Afghanistan's population with some sort of healthcare. In 2002 we had zero curative and diagnostic services; today that has gone up to 50 percent. There are hospitals now in Kabul that can perform heart surgery on children. I've been to that hospital; it was developed for us with French help and the Aga Khan foundation. Maternity care is widespread all over the country. Child mortality has declined by 26 or 27 percent, so we can now save annually at least 85,000 children. The economy has improved. In 2002 the entire reserve of Afghanistan was $180 million, today our reserves are over $3 billion. And a great part of that is your money by the way. The revenue collection of the country in 2002 was $120 million, now its $950 million.

We still can do a lot better, there's still a lot of areas that we can't address because of administrative inability and lack of proper assistance. We did not have an army, we have an army now, nearly 80,000 that will go up to 100,000. We did not have police. Roads; we have over 3,500 kilometers of paved roads. The entire Ring Road is almost complete - only a stretch of 200 kilometers is left. We are connected by bridges and highways and in some parts of the country, by railroads to the neighbors. Trade is massive, with Pakistan at the time of the Taliban our trade was $25 million, now it's over a billion. With Iran from $5-10 million or so five years ago, now its nearly $450 million. With China the same and with India the same, Tajikistan and Russia also. So these are the achievements of which the Afghan people are proud and for which they are grateful to the United States primarily as the country at the forefront at the efforts and also to the European allies and also to India and also to others.

Education is massively good, six million children go to school both boys and girls, of which 35-40 percent are girls parts of the country are suffering again today because the Taliban are attacking schools and not allowing them to go to school. And the most important of all the achievements that we rarely talk about - I don't know why - is that Afghanistan after 30 years of war, has become the home of all Afghans. Nobody is excluded; nobody can be excluded anymore. Our flag is flying all around the world, we have embassies opening every day, of us in the rest of the world and the rest of the world towards Afghanistan. Just last week I received the first permanent Swedish ambassador to Afghanistan. We had relations with Sweden, non-permanent, we now have permanent residences, of Norway, of the Nordic states, and almost all of the European countries and, of course, the U.S. has built a big embassy in Kabul, a big one.

So, those are the things that we have achieved. Could we have done better? Could we have spent the resources better? Could we have had more success in certain areas? Yes. And one of the most important areas that we could have done better is the training of the police, we could have started earlier on the training of police, when I say 'we' I mean Afghanistan and its allies, meaning Afghanistan and the United States, mainly. We could have done better in that. Could we have done better in the war against terrorism? Yes. We could have done much better by concentrating in time and early on the sanctuaries that the terrorists had in Afghanistan, on the training bases that they had, on the protection they had in Afghanistan, on the financing that they had and on speaking with our neighbors earnestly, especially the United States, and in-depth, in changing attitudes and in changing the means to policies. Radicalism is never a good means to any policy to any pursuit of objective.

Again, could we have done better on poppies? I don't know. Did we make mistakes in our struggle to free the country of poppies? Yes, perhaps we did what was the mistake, the mistake was that we went in 2003 to parts of the country and we paid farmers not to grow poppies; this is an incentive for other farmers to grow poppies. Because you are rewarding those that are growing poppies and the ones growing peaches or pomegranates, think, 'Hell, why should I grow peaches? I'll be paid if I grow poppies.' That was a mistake. A serious mistake. Did we concentrate on enough alternatives enough? No. Did we concentrate on eradication, and talk about eradication more than we should have done? Yes, we talked a lot about eradication. Well, eradication doesn't give you a poppy-free country. I was naive about this myself I thought if I go and eradicate a poppy field today it will not be there next year, no, it's like any other crop, it can be grown again next year. But finally for the past two years we have been registering success in our anti-poppy drive. We have registered success, we have this year increased the number of provinces from last years 13 provinces, to this years 18 provinces that are almost totally poppy-free or considerably poppy free. There's only one province that produces a lot of poppies and that province needs to receive a lot of attention.

What's ailing us today? What is putting our achievements in danger? It remains to be terrorism. Where is there terrorism? Is it in the Afghan villages? No. Does it have sanctuaries in Afghanistan? No. Can it launch attacks in Afghanistan? Yes. Can it hurt us both, Afghans and Americans? Yes. Terrorism is regional, the sanctuaries that they have, and this is not - I must make very sure - this is not an accusation, I'm trying to talk about a fact. So this is to describe a fact. Unfortunately, in the tribal countries of Pakistan and other areas there, for years, sanctuaries were tolerated. They existed. We see the consequences of that now for the region, for Afghanistan and for Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto; her assassination, and unfortunately in my case, I was the last person to meet with her that day, we met, such an excellent meeting, such a complete meeting of minds on this question of terrorism, complete understanding of sanctuaries and all that, and three hours later, just as I'm taking off from the airport in Islamabad, she is assassinated there, next to the airport.

In the hundreds of people that suffer everyday. For years, since 2004, right after the Presidential elections, Afghanistan was a major attack area for the Taliban and the terrorists. Our schools were burnt, especially those in the provinces close to the Pakistani border. Girls and boys were prevented from going to school. Three hundred thousand of our children in those areas cannot go to school today. Community leaders were killed, clergy were killed, teachers, doctors were killed - just two weeks ago suicide bombers killed two of our best doctors, for a country like Afghanistan that lacks doctors so much, a doctor is worth billions and billions of dollars. You actually can't value it in terms of money, it's so valuable. We lost two doctors to suicide bombings. And for the past two years we have seen an increasing numbers of attacks in Pakistan against civilians, against homes, against elders, against communities, against schools. In Swat Valley, an place of extreme beauty in Pakistan, today nearly 80,000 girls cannot go to school there, who were going to school, either high school or intermediate school or primary schools. In other parts of Pakistan bridges are blown up, roads were blown up, schools and hospitals were blown up, ski-resorts blown up, by the same terrorists who were operating in Afghanistan causing mayhem and destruction, in Pakistan. So the problem is really regional. It also affects our other neighbor India, the bombings in Ahmadabad, Bangalore, Delhi. And beyond, Algeria, Yemen, the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, and there is today in Germany two terrorists - we don't know the nature of that risk yet in detail.

So the nature of the problem is regional, the struggle against it must be regional. It has to be international as well. We tried very hard with our brothers in Pakistan for many years, in some areas we succeeded, some not. Now, for the past few months with the democratic elections, with the arrival of the democratic government, led by the PPP, President Zardari, Prime Minister Gailani we have great hopes. I have a complete understanding on the question of terrorism and how to fight it with Zardari. He is personally been affected by terrorism, he lost his wife. There is a great hope there. And I'm very much hopeful that us, the United States, Pakistan and Indian can join hands. On my last visit for his inauguration, the prime minister and the president proposed a joint strategy for fighting terrorism. When we do this, and only when we have evolved a joint regional strategy, backed by the international community, will we succeed.

Now there are people that are suffering both ways, at the hands of terrorism and in the consequence for the fight against terrorism. In Pakistan and in Afghanistan. In Pakistan they are killed by the terrorists, and they are also killed by bombardment shells dropped on sanctuaries of the terrorists. In Afghanistan they are killed by the terrorists in great many numbers, and sometimes also by the aerial bombings of NATO and the coalition forces against terrorist targets. Now of course we must make sure that civilians don't suffer, because we cannot ever win the war against terrorism without the people. That's how we won in the first place in 2001; we were able together with the United States, to drive the bad guys out of the country in less than a month and a half. Was that all done just with bombs and planes and soldiers? No, it was done because the people were with us. Whenever I went from district to district before I arrived together with Americans friends and coalition partners, the people would have chased the Talban away from the street. And that is still the case. So the population and their support is very, very important.

The people on the two sides of the Durand line, Afghanistan and Pakistan, are the greatest sufferers and victims of terrorism. We have to liberate them. We have liberated Afghanistan from terrorism; we have now to liberate the people in the tribal territories of Pakistan which is called FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). For 30 years at least their homes, their villages, their populations were made hostage to the sanctuary of terrorists. The terrorists came there with money, with resources, and now the population there is suffering the consequences of the terrorist sanctuary there, and of the war against terror. We have to make very sure when we act we separate the population from the terrorists. In other words, we have to liberate the population, re-empower their leaders, bring them back to act the way they would for centuries. In the past four years at least 300 tribal leaders have been killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and in Swat, South Waziristan and in Bajura, where just recently they killed five or six extremely distinguished tribal leaders who were very much of the world view that we are. So we need to liberate populations both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We have to isolate the sanctuaries and the governments have to work together through a joint strategy to attack them.

And some of us in that part of the world must now recognize, must now realize, that radicalism extremism can never be instruments of policy; that it is like a snake, that you can train a snake against someone else, but it can turn around and bite the trainer anytime it wants, and this has happened already. In a tragic way. And for the United States, its important to continue to work, to continue to re-evaluate whether we are doing the right things or should we stop and think for a while and how best we can engage the region and fight against terrorism which is making sure that the friendship between the sanctuaries and the population, and act accordingly.

Now, briefly, on Afghanistan - we're still are a very poor country, for all the good things I was saying earlier, we're not a rich country, we have $300 billion in our reserve, but we are a very poor country, we have 85 percent of our population receiving health service, but still the worst among the world in the delivery of health services. We still have food deficiencies. We could be a very good country, and what would it take to be a very good country, that you all desire, and that we of course desire too. To work through the Afghan system, to build our institutions and to use the money taxpayers have given us efficiently and speedily through the institutes of the Afghan government, which we call the 'Afghanization' process, which means it will be less costly for you, it will be more efficient for us, and that will in some years give you a much better Afghanistan that you can visit as tourists, that you can enjoy the hotels of the exceptional sceneries of, if you go to Bamiyan and see the Buddha's and see them, there's nothing like that in the world.... You can go to the natural water pools on top of our mountains; you can take a helicopter and see the peaks of the mountains, when the snow melts, there are water-pools there, and there are hundreds of these pools on top of the mountains. It's a country of majestic beauty, of high mountains, of deep deserts, of arches and gardens, let alone the poppy flowers, which you don't want to see.

Thank you very much.

(For a full video of the speech, please click here.)

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