Magazine article Newsweek International

Hamid Karzai: 'There Has to Be Progress'

Magazine article Newsweek International

Hamid Karzai: 'There Has to Be Progress'

Article excerpt

Byline: Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai

Eight million Afghan men and women braved Taliban threats and bad weather to cast their ballots during Afghanistan's first free presidential election this fall. A solid 55.4 percent voted for Hamid Karzai. Last week Karzai was inaugurated in the company of top U.S. officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Will Karzai now be able to impose his will on a country that continues to be plagued by warlords and militants, where the biggest money earner is opium? In an exclusive interview at the presidential palace in Kabul, the 46-year-old Karzai spoke with NEWSWEEK's Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai about his plans for the next five years. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Will your priority be to dramatically improve security? Ron Moreau and Sami YousafzaiKARZAI: Today I met an elderly village man who had tears in his eyes. He pleaded: "Mr. President, I want a clean government." That was exactly what the Afghan people voted for. That's what I'm going to deliver. This means security; this means reconstruction, and an honest, accountable, austere government.

Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai But how can you suddenly bring about good government, especially in the countryside where the Taliban and warlords are present?

There's no Taliban in the countryside. Forget about that. The countryside is even more ready for good government than the urban centers. For that we need a capable administration that will be able to deliver services, including justice, to the people.

Will your new administration feature a dramatically new look to accomplish these tasks?

Mostly a new look. It will reflect Afghanistan and the desires of Afghans to combat corruption, warlords and terrorism. There will be [an ethnic] balance of very capable people.

Can the Taliban be defeated militarily?

The Taliban are not there. Otherwise how could we have had elections? The elections succeeded thanks to the force of the people. The Taliban can only succeed if they are accepted by or have a presence among the people. The Afghan people proved that this country is inherently democratic.

Will this election lead to defections from Mullah Mohammed Omar's forces?

The Taliban have been talking to us for a long time. Those who are not part of Al Qaeda, who are not linked to terrorism, who have not committed crimes against our people, and those who have a desire to come back and be a part of this country again, are welcome. …

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