‘US is fighting terrorism in the wrong places’ - former Afghan President Karzai

Hamid Karzai blames the US for failing to execute a smooth transition after defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda in 2001, and says that overcoming terrorism is impossible - unless Washington confronts radicalism among its own allies.

58-year-old Karzai, who led Afghanistan between 2004 and 2014, was speaking one-on-one with RT’s Maria Finoshina at a security conference in Moscow.

RT: Mr. Karzai, you are going to speak at the conference, at a panel titled "Terrorism: The Number One Threat to Global Security." As a former president of a country that has suffered tremendously from extremism, and terrorism, who had been in office for almost a decade but left when terrorist activity was close to its highest level, honestly, what could you share with the world in terms of fighting terrorism?

Hamid Karzai: Well, it is a sad story. Unfortunately, Afghanistan did not see security the way we should have. After the United States and its allies' intervention, after the tragic events of 9/11 the Afghan people joined hands with the Americans to free Afghanistan from that creeping invasion from our neighbor to the east. That freedom, that liberation came very quickly. All the terrorist elements, the so-called Al-Qaeda - all of them were driven out...

RT: ...That you said is a myth.

HK: Al-Qaeda - well, I'm coming to that. So they were driven out. We began a very good life, there was security and peace in the country for three or four years, and progress came, and schools opened, and the economy revived and worked.

Afghanistan Interim Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai (2nd from R) speaks
while the Afghanistan flag blows in the wind during the official flag
raising event at the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington, January 28,
2001. © Reuters

RT: There was a ray of hope?

HK: Tremendous hope. And we did achieve a lot. But in one area, which was the most important for us and for the world, and also about which the United States spoke as its primary objective: security and an effective campaign against extremism and terrorism, we did not succeed. And we see the increasing signs, and [our] vulnerability to that today. So yes, you're right.

RT: So, what exactly are you going to share? What could you share with the world in terms of what to do? Or are you going to go there and say aloud, "Guys, we've failed, we don't know how to fight extremism"?

HK: No. I have an idea. I have given this idea repeatedly to our allies - the Americans and others, and also to our friends in Russia. The war against terrorism will not succeed unless we fight it in the sanctuaries, in the training grounds, in the motivational factors, in the financial resources to them. The reason the United States and its allies failed to provide lasting security to Afghanistan and to do away with extremism and with radicalism is because they began to fight it in Afghan villages, where terrorism wasn't there anyway in the first place. They did not go to the sanctuaries, which were in Pakistan. They did not go to the motivational factors, which were in many other places. They did not go to the financial sources of it, which they knew where they were. Therefore, we suffered. And unless that happens, we will continue to suffer.


    

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Karzai appointed as President of the Afghan Transitional Administration at the June 2002 loya jirga (grand assembly) in Kabul, Afghanistan. © Wikipedia

RT: Speaking about the American intervention, the US has been in Afghanistan for 15 years, and today your country, unfortunately, is in a worse state than it used to be. So, exactly, what has gone wrong? You've mentioned a little bit right now, but I want you to give a bigger picture.

HK: Let me put it this way. Where we are today, with more extremism, with more terrorism, with more radicalization of the youth, not only in our region but beyond the Middle East and up to Central Asia - the United States must explain itself as to why things went wrong.

RT: But I'm sure you've asked them this question.

HK: I have asked them repeatedly.

RT: How did they respond?

HK: They say that they've done everything right, that they know that there are shortcomings, that there are difficulties. But that's not satisfactory, I'm not satisfied with that answer. My suggestion is that the United States, if it knows where it has faced difficulties, which we believe is beyond our borders, in Pakistan, then the United States must start to consult with Russia, to consult with China, and to consult with India, and seek help. Explain the situation... If this war is genuinely against terrorism, if the United States wants to succeed, then we know by now that success will not come unless you go to the sanctuaries, you go to the financial sources and all other factors. And if you cannot do it alone, then go seek help from Russia, China and India. In particular, Russia, in our case, because it is close to us, because it has a long history with us, and because it has the means to do it, together with the rest of the world. And America, I hope, and I suggest, [should] do that.

RT: You said, "If America wants to succeed." You sound as if you doubt they do.

HK: Well, I don't want to sound doubtful, but there is no security, and there is no end to extremism and radicalism. Rather, we see more insecurity; we see more radicalism and extremism. It must have a reason. The reason is, in my view, that we didn't do it properly. That the strategy wasn't right, that the conduct of the struggle against terrorism wasn't right. That has to be corrected. One major way of correcting that is to seek help from countries who have the power, and who know this region, and who share the same ideals with you. Therefore, my suggestion is that the US begins to seek help, or, if it is not doing that, it must explain itself to us and to the rest of the world.

RT: There is another means that you mention on various occasions in your interviews. It's talks, negotiations. Now we hear that you are asking the Taliban to enter into peace talks - the very Taliban that is responsible, and just recently claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a Kabul security agency compound, which we hear from your Interior Ministry left at least 64 dead and more than 300 injured.

HK: Yes.

RT: Do you want to talk to these people?

HK: What other options do we have? This war has to end. If we have not been able to defeat terrorism in the past 15 years, with all the power of NATO and the United States, if that has failed, we have only a few explanations for it - probably, two. One, that the military is not the solution. Two, that the military and the power that should have been used is not used in the right place. Therefore, in order for us to get to a peaceful Afghanistan and a stable Afghanistan, again, there are only two ways. One, to identify and differentiate between the Afghan Taliban and the non-Afghan Taliban, or the non-Afghan violent forces. With the Afghan Taliban, who are Afghans, who belong to Afghanistan, who have their families, their lives in Afghanistan, we must sit down and talk. And they, the Taliban - the Afghan Taliban, must free themselves from outside control and influence. And surely there is outside control and influence on them. Therefore, they must free themselves, they must make themselves independent. And we as fellow Afghans must talk to them. The other side of success is, alongside trying to talk to the Taliban, we must do the right thing in the war against terrorism, which I referred to earlier.


    

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Karzai discussing security and development issues in Helmand Province on 2 January 2010. © Wikipedia

RT: Do you have any  understanding, how many Afghans there are in all the Taliban groups?

HK: The Taliban, unlike the DAISH, unlike ISIL  are [mainly] Afghans. They are from villages, we know them, they are there, they are in every part of Afghanistan. So that’s why we keep asking for negotiations with the Taliban that we must continue. The war is not the solution.  There are hundreds of people that we lose every week in Afghanistan on both sides.

The most important aspect here alongside our effort to speak to the Taliban is for us in the international community. To join hands in sincerely struggling with extremism.

That we decide that using extremism as a tool must not be allowed – by any state. No matter what that state is. It must not be allowed here. The US must join hands with Russia and China, and India and other big powers. If the desire is a genuine ‘win’ in the war against radicalism and extremism.

RT: You mentioned ISIL. Do you think the international community should try to talk to ISIL as well, rather than bomb them in Syria, Iraq and – recently - in Afghanistan?

HK: In Syria and Iraq I don’t have a full picture, in Syria and Iraq they are brutal as they are also in Afghanistan. But what about Afghanistan? I know mam, clearly that without any element of doubt, with total certainty that DAISH is a totally alien to Afghanistan. It’s a foreign organization, founded for a purpose not for Afghanistan. Afghanistan for DAISH is a place to use for another purpose. Therefore, we should fight it and should remove it as soon as we can. Because it is clearly not for Afghanistan, clearly created from the outside. But clearly Afghanistan is paying a heavy price for their presence in Afghanistan and they are there to hurt our neighborhood.

RT: You have been saying that ISIL is not in Afghanistan, so now you have changed your mind? Right?

HK: No, I’ve been saying there is no ISIL in Afghanistan, but I meant that the ISIL or DAISH is a foreign phenomenon in Afghanistan. They are there, they are not Afghan, they are not locals, they are not us. They are created from the outside, brought from the outside, managed from the outside.

RT: From where exactly?

HK: The immediate information that we have is that many of them are from Pakistan, and we know, we have evidences they have links to Pakistani security forces. We’ve seen pictures, we’ve seen bodies that had identifications. Now whether there is a bigger hand, another source than Pakistan, we have to establish.

RT: In the 1980s you were connected to the Mujahideen. At that time they were fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some may say that you might know how a militant group is organized from the inside, and maybe you could even be an expert on such groups. But it was 30 years ago and I want to ask you about the evolution of such groups. What changed today and from what has changed today, how can we understand the best way to fight them?

HK: During and after the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, Afghans began to fight for freedom, two elements were there: one – the Soviet Union and it’s effort to impose communism in Afghanistan, the other was our struggling for liberation, help of the United States, Pakistan and other countries. With them trying to impose radicalism in Afghanistan as the best tool to fight with the Soviet Union. It was that imposition of religious radicalism on the Afghan Resistance that became the seed of what we have today in our region, in our country in the form of extremism and in the form of all the troubles that we have.

RT: So, was that a good idea?

HK: That was a bad idea! The Resistance was a good idea for our liberation. The use of our liberation as a tool to break up the Soviet Union and to cause international extremism was wrong, for which Afghanistan is now paying a heavy price and even the region is paying a heavy price, also the US suffered in the form of September 11. So I hope that recognition comes to all of us.

RT: But as far as I understand, you were with jihadists at that time? But at that time you didn’t think it was a bad idea?

HK: Look, even then we thought it was a bad idea. Even then we told the US it was a bad idea. Even then the leader of our movement Professor Mojaddedi was one of the greatest [advocates] of a moderate movement – he was telling us we must not provide support to extremist forces. We did it even then.

RT: But you are among the fundraisers for the Mujahideen. You were supporting them.

HK: No, I was not a fundraiser..

RT: What exactly was your connection with them?

HK: I was part of the Afghanistan Resistance. Initially, I was young, I was the media contact, then later was the phone relations contact and also active in moving inside of Afghanistan. The fundraising was a major activity that was done by other countries and other organizations.    

RT: Were you familiar with… call it... the kitchen of such groups?

HK: Not at that time, no. We knew that there was an active promotion of radicalism, that Afghan  identity was being weakened, and that religious identity was imposed on our country. And that was the time we recognized [these] moderated wings of Resistance were beginning to work against this. I mean Professor Mojaddedi and other people as well worked against this. And we raised our voice at that time. Lot of Afghans did. So did some writers in Europe - some French writers spoke a lot about this impact.

RT: And the final question: You were close to those people, you could observe them. What has changed in these three decades? What kind of groups do we have now – with the internet, with social groups, with all this technology?

HK: Those groups were the main Mujahideen groups of the Afghan Resistance. They did not go to any kind of militant activity that we see today. Individuals in these groups were surely taken out and later caused some trouble to us. And that‘s the reason.

During these years thousands of foreigners were brought to Afghanistan and Pakistan, trained in Pakistan and sent to Afghanistan, especially from Arab countries, from Algeria to Libya, to Egypt, to Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to Iraq – to everywhere.

RT: Back in time?

HK: Back in that time of the fight against the Soviet Union. So the seeds of that were really sown then. Through that famous… you know – concept of the American and the Western policymakers of the arch of crisis around the Soviet Union or some even called it a ‘green belt’. That’s the fact, there was a Cold War struggle between the US and allies and the Union. We were in between and we suffered the consequences for which we even today pay a heavy price. That’s why the collapse if the Soviet Union and the weakening of Russia cost us immensely.

When Russia was strong, Afghanistan was stable. That’s why today – that’s my very clear opinion – that a stronger Russia, a resurgent Russia in our region engaged with Afghanistan politically and economically, training Afghan forces, giving us the knowledge they have, will bring stability back to Afghanistan and vice versa to Russia. So, that’s what we should do today and I’m working on it.