October 19, 2017
Hamid Karzai took part in the final plenary session of the 14th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club titled The World of the Future: Moving Through Conflict to Cooperation. Below is the transcript of his speech:
Your Excellency, Vladimir Putin, the honourable President of Russia, honoured colleagues on the podium, ladies and gentlemen,
It is such a tremendous honour for me to be among you all today here. I have participated in the deliberations and discussions in the past two days. I have been to many such occasions in the past 15 years. This is among the best. And I hope Mr Bystritsky can invite me again next year.
Mr President, ladies and gentlemen. The Valdai Discussion Club has raised an issue of creative destruction: will a better world emerge from the current conflicts? Well, I am from a very small country with very limited means. But somehow our location in the past three centuries has thrown us in the middle of the greatest of games. And we have been the centre of those games for good or for worse.
And from my point of view and from the point of view of the Afghan discussion of creative destruction, I would rather use in our case the phrase used by the tsarist foreign minister of Russia at the time, Count Karl Nesselrode. He called the great game of the time a tournament of shadows. When you saw the game at play, you saw shadows but you did not see the actual hands behind unless you looked closer and deeper.
Afghanistan has gone through the tournament of shadows in the past two centuries at least. In the 19th century that Nesselrode called the tournament of shadows between Great Britain and the Russian Empire, Afghanistan was in the middle. We played both sides. But the British happened to be a bit more clever than the Afghans and we lost part of our territory.
And then in the 20th century, with the rise of the Soviet Union as our neighbour and as a great power, from 1919 to 1979 Afghanistan saw the greatest period of its stability on account of having us balanced the Soviet Union and the United States properly. Of course, we were more reliant on the Soviet Union, much closer to the Soviet Union, but also did shake hands in a warm way with the United States and allowed them to come and participate in the building of our country. With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Afghanistan became the hot spot of the Cold War, or the war turned hot on Afghanistan at the time.
It is this specific period of the Afghan resistance against the former Soviet Union that has left us with tremendous legacies, terrible legacies. While, on the one hand, the Soviet Union was trying to impose Communism on Afghanistan, as His Excellency Mr President referred to the Rogerwood, those who were helping the Afghan resistance, the Americans and their allies and our neighbours, especially Pakistan, they tried to use the Afghan resistance, which we were doing for our liberation, to defeat the Soviet Union through the use of religious radicalism.
So the arrival of those extremist elements into Afghanistan, the import of those elements into Afghanistan and the massive destruction that they tried to cause to the Afghan society, our tradition and culture… We were a Muslim country, a deeply believing Muslim country. But we were a moderate country, never an extremist country. We still are a moderate country. But the US and its allies tried to turn us into an extremist country in order to use religion to defeat the Soviet Union. So they would call our resistance to the Soviet Union as the Americans would fight to the last Afghan with the Soviets.
At the end of that conflict, there were only two losers who were before that close friends, the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. We both suffered badly, Afghanistan much more so. And we see the consequences even today. The United States for a while became the sole super power – or as they wish, the hyper power. Europe did better. Pakistan did much-much better. It became a nuclear power and got all intelligence tools that they needed. Afghanistan suffered and continues to suffer today.
The tragedy of September 11 suddenly brought us once again into the very centre of the world. The US after that tragedy, with the backing of the United Nations, with the backing of Russia, with the backing of China, with the backing of our neighbours Iran and India, and also in a way of Pakistan, and the rest of the international community, intervened in Afghanistan. That intervention in the initial stages succeeded dramatically and most efficiently. Not because of the military might of the United States – I must note this point. Not because of the, what are those planes called? F-52s? M-52s? B-52s. Not because of those planes, not because of the military might of the United States, but because the Afghan people cooperated, it was the first time in our history that the Afghan people cooperated with an invading force, with an arriving foreign force. It was for that that success came within a month and a half.
I do not want to go into the lengths of that. I just want to give you a small story of how I was personally involved.
When the US just arrived, I was in central Afghanistan in the place called Tarinkot in the Oruzgan Province. It was the month of Ramadan. I was having Iftar, or dinner with some colleagues. And suddenly, somebody came to say that the Americans who arrived that night in Tarinkot, a group of fourteen of them, the CIA and the military together, they wanted to see me. As they came in, the man sitting with me was narrating a story, telling me how, while chasing the Taliban, the US planes had accidentally bombed his house, in which he lost three or four of his grandchildren and a daughter. So I was embarrassed. I did not know if I should invite the Americans when this man had suffered so much. I asked them, “Gentlemen, should I invite the Americans?” He said, “Yes, please, by all means, bring them in.” So I invited the Americans. They came in, a colonel and a CIA officer, who later became the Deputy Chief of the CIA, recently retired. When they sat, I told them that this was what had happened to this man and he lost his family in their bombings. And then that man stopped me and said, “No, tell them that I have three, four more children. If in the liberation of Afghanistan I lose the other three children and grandchildren of mine, I will not mind. I want my country liberated.” It was the kind of enthusiasm that they had.
And for a number of years, we did very well. Education, health services, democratic institutions, women’s rights, their arrival on the scene of Afghanistan – because of the support of the Afghan people and because of the support of all the countries present here, primarily, the big powers, Russia, China, Iran and so on. I was taken to the United States on a US plane. I was brought to Moscow, Mr President, on a Russian plane. Your government may have not told you. I came here on a Russian plane. I went to China on a Chinese plane. The Indians provided the same facilities. It was this massive international cooperation with the United States and its allies that made a success.
But soon, we began to get troubles. Extremism arrived again, violence erupted again, terrorism arrived again. And the US did not pay attention to where it was coming from. It began bombing Afghan villages, it began killing Afghan people, it began putting Afghan people in prisons. And the more they did the more we had extremism.
Today, I am one of the greatest critics of the US policy in Afghanistan. Not because I am anti-Western, I am a very Western person. My education is Western, my ideas are Western. I am very democratic in my inner instincts. And I love their culture. But I am against the US policy because it is not succeeding. It is causing us immense trouble and the rise of extremism and radicalism and terrorism. I am against the US policy because on their watch, under their total control of the Afghan air space, the Afghan intelligence and the Afghan military, of all that they have, that super power, there is Daesh in Afghanistan. How come Daesh emerged in Afghanistan 14–15 years after the US presence in Afghanistan with that mass of resources and money and expenditure? Why is the world not as cooperative with America in Afghanistan today as it was before? How come Russia now has doubts about the intentions of the US in Afghanistan or the result of its work in Afghanistan? How come China does not view it the same way? How come Iran has immense difficulty with the way things are conducted in Afghanistan?
Therefore, as an Afghan in the middle of this great game, I propose to our ally, the United States, the following: we will all succeed if you tell us that you have failed. We would understand. Russia would understand, China would understand. Iran, Pakistan, everybody would understand. India would understand. We have our Indian friends there. We see all signs of failure there, but if you do not tell us you failed, what is this, a game?
Of course, we are not going to play the game of extremism there. That is why many people are asking in Afghanistan and elsewhere whether extremism and terrorism is a tool and a pretext, as the honourable President mentioned earlier. Are we really fighting extremism or are we pretending to be fighting extremism? And are we defending our interests at any cost? This is something that I have been facing for years in my deliberations and talks with our colleagues around.
My proposal today is, Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, that in order for us, the international community, with Afghanistan as a place where we have immense suffering… just today we had nearly 50 of our soldiers killed. Yesterday, we had 70 killed. And in the past two days the country has lost 300 people, young men, who have wives and children, who are all very young.
The way forward is this: the United States of America in Afghanistan must begin to re-engage in a new contact with Afghan people. Two: the United States in Afghanistan must begin to re-engage with our neighbours and big powers of the world – that means our neighbours, that means China, that means Russia, that means India – on a clear, transparent platform of objectives. And with this in mind, the international community must support the Afghan mechanism for the resolution of the problems that we have.
The Afghan mechanism today, the best available, is the Grand Council of Afghan People or the Loya Jirga. Your support of this mechanism and the coming together of the international community and really giving Afghanistan the opportunity to own its processes for peace and political development are going to free us from this curse of extremism. Pakistan, our neighbour, has a tremendous role here to play. I wish Pakistan participated in a very civilised dialogue with the Afghan people. Use of extremism, the exploitation of extremism is no solution. It causes trouble for all.
With this, I hope, since the President of Russia is here and we expect a lot of Russia as a neighbour, as an old friend and historical ally, to engage more formidably with the United States and the West on Afghanistan and to lend a supporting hand to the Afghan people to initiate their own mechanisms for the resolution of the problems we have.
And please do send your businesses and investors to Afghanistan. We are too close to you not to have your businesses in our country.
Thank you very much.
Fydor Lukyanov: Thank you, Mr President. You have brought us back to more practical current topics. I have only one small question for you. I hope you have a short answer to it.
You have said that you have democratic instincts in general. Could that be your problem? We often talk in the Valdai Club about democracy as a great form of government but in the modern world, it often comes across many difficulties and sometimes produces the opposite effect. Maybe democracy is not what Afghanistan needs? Maybe you should try something else?
Hamid Karzai: We are, as the Americans would say, a hell of a democratic country. Because, as I told you yesterday, each Afghan is a king to himself. We are a very egalitarian country. And egalitarianism gives you the foundations of debate. But it must be our own. It cannot be – I must say this, I am sorry, I do not like to mention this but I must say this – it cannot be John Kerry’s democracy. It has to be ours. He should not come to us to count our votes or to assign the number of votes to this or that candidate. When it is our democracy, when we practice it the way we are, according to our tradition, it works. So, as the Chinese would say, we must choose our own model of development. And that is the right course.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Actually, John is bad at counting. The process takes him two or three months, so there is no result yet. (Laughter)
Fyodor Lukyanov: Yes, we can do this much better.
Vladimir Putin: He is a good guy, but maths do not seem to be his strong point.
Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you. We look at the essence of democracy. We know that democracy goes hand in hand with a market economy, which has become global in the 21st century.