Today's date:
Spring 2008

The War Against Terrorism Is Not in Afghanistan, but Pakistan

Hamid Karzai is the president of Afghanistan. He spoke with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

NPQ | Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says that you and he have come to an agreement on how to combat the armed Taliban and al-Qaida. Is this real or rhetoric?

Hamid Karzai | I had a very constructive meeting recently with President Musharraf in Islamabad. I found a better recognition of the problem and a new urgency to face terrorism in Pakistan. My hope is that Pakistan will now take much tougher and clearer action, with a vision of a region free of the use of extremism for political purposes. If Pakistan takes one step in this direction, we in Afghanistan will take many to reinforce it.

NPQ | In a conversation with Benazir Bhutto before her assassination, she said the policy of "strategic depth," in which Pakistan fostered the Taliban in Afghanistan as a security buffer vis-a-vis India, was still, in her view, supported by some ranks of the Pakistan intelligence services.

She said as prime minister she would end this policy because it had backfired and created a "strategic threat" to Pakistan, with Taliban and al-Qaida now destabilizing her own country. The stability of democracy in Afghanistan was a better solution to Pakistan's concerns, she thought.

Do you agree with her view of the source of the problem?

Karzai | If she meant that the policy of strategic depth was tied to the promotion of religious extremism and that has now rebounded against Pakistan, she was very right about that. It is exactly what must be addressed.

The use of extremism for any purpose is not going to get you that purpose. Therefore, it is going to hurt all of us, as it is now hurting Pakistan.

The Taliban in their native form are orthodox, not extremists. They don't have an ideology of hate against others or using weapons against others. Tali means a student of a religious school to become a learned person in religious matters.

That is not radicalism. Radicalism is a motivational thing, inspired by a certain belief. Unfortunately, this radicalism has been used as a tool by others over the past three decades, first by the West in the conflict with the Soviet Union when they supported the radical elements of the mujahadeen; then, as Benazir Bhutto referred to, that tool was used for strategic depth. So, it is important to distinguish the two Talibans.

For Pakistan and Afghanistan to have a relationship in which each is confident of the other, we have to go beyond this concept of strategic depth and the use of radical elements as agents on behalf of a broader political agenda.

Afghanistan will give all it can by the way of assurances and guarantees that a stable, prosperous Afghanistan will be an asset for Pakistan, not somehow at odds with their interests. To have a policy like France and Germany, former enemies cooperating in Europe, would be much better for our security. That is the vision I have for this region. And that is the vision that will defeat the extremists. Benazir Bhutto was very right.

NPQ | What is it that Pakistan needs most from the West now?

Karzai | Above all we need help in building up our human capital and our institutions, our army, our police, administrators, judges and so on. We need to raise the standards of governance.

Although the situation has improved lately, the accidental bombing of Afghan civilians by NATO or US forces -- which happens because they don't have enough forces on the ground -- is especially painful. But I'm not sure sending more forces is the answer.

For us, the war is not here, it is elsewhere. Therefore, the effort should be concentrated in the sanctuaries and training grounds. Afghanistan is not a sanctuary. It was, but we took it back.

NPQ | Where do you think Osama bin Laden is?

Karzai | He is not in Afghanistan. He can't hide here. So, he must be where he can hide.