Interview: 'I Know the Problem'

Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke with NEWSWEEK's Fareed Zakaria at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York last week. Excerpts:

KARZAI: There is no political strength for the Taliban in Afghanistan. They are there in the form of killers of teachers, killers of clergymen, killers of schoolchildren. Is that a popular base? No. Why can they do it? Why can they come and burn an Afghan school? An Afghan clinic? It is because of a lack of a proper police force, lack of a proper military force and because of the general inability of the country, weakened by years of destruction, to provide that kind of protection to the public.

What is that we have not done well that poppies are still there? Was it that our expectation was too high? Was it that we were naïve in thinking that we could destroy poppies in a year or two? Or is the strategy that we are implementing flawed? Perhaps all three. It will take more than two or three or five years. It took 20 years in Thailand, it took about 15 years in Pakistan, it took about five to 10 years in Turkey. In Afghanistan, we should give it at least 10 to 15 years of very dedicated work. Anything short of that, anything in a hurry, anything with emotions will get us into deeper trouble.

I know the problem. But this is a problem that has come to us from outside of Afghanistan. The symptoms are inside Afghanistan, but the roots are outside of Afghanistan. You do not destroy terrorism by bombing villages. [Let's say] there was an 18-year-old boy--extremely poor, extremely desperate, extremely unaware of the rest of the world--in a Pakistani madrassa and in that madrassa, the teacher told them, "Go to Afghanistan. The country has become Russian, the country has become Jewish. There are Americans and all other parties there in Afghanistan. Go kill them and you will be in heaven straightaway." Now, does it solve the problem by killing this young, ignorant person or by closing that madrassa in Pakistan?

Mullah Omar is, for sure, in Quetta, Pakistan, and he knows that. We have given him the GPS numbers of his house and the telephone number.

I think it goes back into the history a little bit. I think unless we decide as a region to stop relying on extremism as an instrument of policy, the question of terrorism will not be resolved.

We want the international community to stay in Afghanistan until Afghanistan has its own army, its own police, its own institutional strengths and the ability, economically and otherwise, to defend the country. So if that takes five years, if that takes 10 years or more, good enough. But we in Afghanistan are in a hurry to relieve the rest of the world sooner of this pressure.