'A step toward a democratic Afghanistan'

While visiting Pakistan last week, Afghan president Hamid Karzai offered an exclusive interview to AVT Khyber TV. The interview in Islamabad, conducted in Pashto by anchorman Hasan Khan and translated by station reporter Iftikhar Hussain, allowed Mr. Karzai to speak directly to fellow Pashtuns in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The interview was broadcast over an area including the tribal belt of Pakistan - where Osama bin Laden has support and is thought by some to be hiding - and the Pashtun region of Afghanistan. Among other topics, Karzai took questions on his government's decision to delay parliamentary elections, now scheduled for September. [Editor's note: The original version was incomplete in describing by whom the interview was conducted.]

Q: The Afghan government has suspected some Taliban elements are hiding in the tribal belt of Pakistan. What are your expectations or demands from Pakistan with regard to arrest of Taliban militants?

A: We acknowledge and appreciate Pakistan's role in the war on terror. Pakistan and Afghanistan are making joint efforts to curb terrorism. I believe Pakistan has been very successful in the war against terror and there is room for further success.

Q: There is pressure on your government to announce an amnesty program for the Taliban, but so far your government has made no progress. Do you agree?

A: No, this is not the case. I am in contact with the Taliban leadership and progress has been made in this regard. Ex-Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil has sent a letter to me. I have read the letter and replied accordingly. Taliban are the sons of the soil, and we want them to work for the development of Afghanistan.

Q: Where is Osama [bin Laden]? Do you believe the ongoing efforts to net him will prove fruitful?

A: I do not know where Osama is. We are pursuing him, wherever he is, and will bring him to justice. I swear by God, we are not going to let him live free any more. He has destroyed Afghanistan. He is responsible for the miseries of the Afghan nation.

Q: The US wants permanent military bases in Afghanistan. Will you approve it yourself or will parliament decide?

A: Afghanistan has a bitter experience for the last 30 years. Afghans know their priorities well. They know how to cope with the current circumstances. We want reconstruction of Afghanistan and we need friends who could help us achieve this objective. We want the US to help us in Afghanistan's reconstruction. We want partners who could help us rehabilitate war-torn Afghanistan. During my election campaign I had promised to strengthen the basis of our relationship with those nations who are ready to help rehabilitate Afghanistan.

Q: Human rights groups have reported some Afghans have died in American prisons. What is your government doing in this regard?

A: Talks with the US government are in progress. The US has released some Afghan prisoners and will hopefully release the rest. This is our utmost effort, to get all Afghans back home.

Q: It has been alleged that you have delayed parliamentary elections to strengthen your grip on power.

A: Why should I delay these elections? I believe these elections would strengthen me instead. Parliament is a must for legislation. I think the election is a step forward toward a democratic Afghanistan.

Q: Do you believe there are any security or political reasons behind the delay in elections?

A: No. We have an election commission which takes independent decisions. The government cannot reject its decision. The reasons for the delay are in fact technical. There are problems like the completion of a census, delimitation of constituencies, funding for polls, etc. To get the situation right for elections, we need time.

Q: Would you allow the Taliban to participate in parliamentary elections?

A: We would welcome all those Afghans to participate in the parliamentary polls who are not involved in crimes. We would welcome all without any discrimination if the law allows them to do so. We do not know about the Taliban as a movement. As ordinary Afghans, we would welcome them.

Q: Before elections you refused to join hands with warlords, but now you are inviting them to work with you.

A: Earlier I refused to join hands with warlords because I wanted to avoid a coalition government. Now I am the elected representative of the people of Afghanistan and would be happy to have all those who want to work for the development of the country under my government.

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