Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, talks
to Sir David Frost
Sir David Frost: Here is a quote from Tony Blair, the British prime minister, last week when he was with Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. He said: "Here in this extraordinary piece of desert is where the future of the world's security in the early 21st century will be played out." Is what is happening in Afghanistan really that important?

Hamid Karzai: Very much true. What Prime Minister Tony Blair said is exactly the story. If you remember, we just go back five years, it was the presence of terrorism in Afghanistan and their hold on Afghanistan that enabled them to go and strike us all over the world - in Afghanistan up to New York and Europe and Bali, Indonesia and all other places. So he is right. We have to defeat them in this part of the world in order for us all to be saved in the rest of the world.

DF: We read now that compared with five years ago when Tony Blair, among others, was able to write off the Taliban, that in parts of the country now they are resurgent. How many hardcore Taliban do you think there are today in Afghanistan?

It is very hard to give you a figure of how many hardcore Taliban or of how many Taliban with arms and guns and explosives there are around killing us. But I can tell you one thing for granted that regardless of what the number is whether it is 100, two, three or more, or into thousands they are not a threat to Afghanistan or the way of life we have chosen, provided the international community stays with us in a manner that will enable Afghanistan to stand on its own feet.

DF: In terms of the terror tactics, one of the worrying things recently is that some of the things that have been going on in Iraq seem to have been exported to Afghanistan, like suicide bombing.

HK: This is a serious concern for the Afghan people. Unfortunately we have suffered a lot because of these bombers. Some of them are really suicide bombers. Some of them are those who are cheated into being unaware of themselves and getting blown up as suicide bombers. Others are extremely sick people, elderly people and drug addicts who have no hope for life, who are contacted by various elements and paid money for their families and then blown up.

Whatever they are all of them, all categories have cost us a lot, have killed our children, have killed our clergy. Our mothers and families have suffered, our soldiers have suffered. It is something that we are concerned about and us in the international community are looking into how best we can stop it.

DF: You mention drugs. We had an announcement today from the UN saying that European cities risk higher numbers of heroin overdoses as Afghanistan's record poppy crop floods cities with the drug. Do you think there is anything you can do about the poppy harvest?

HK: Afghanistan is a Muslim country and Islam, in very clear words, has prohibited, banned the use or cultivation of poppy or all other elements that cause intoxication of human beings and drives them away from themselves.

Now poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has also caused addiction in Afghanistan. Just today I had all the governors of all the 34 provinces of Afghanistan to instruct them that they must go and eradicate and prevent the cultivation of poppies. In this meeting one of the provincial governors whose province does not grow poppies at all told me that there are at least 2000 young people who are addicted to heroin in that province. So we do have a problem of our own as well.

Heroin, poppy cultivation gives Afghanistan a terrible name. Somebody else takes the money, we get the bad name. Now trade of it to European cities is not done by Afghans. It is done by other nationals. Whether somebody else does the trade or we do the trade is not the matter. The question is clear that poppies are hurting Afghanistan's reputation. In every meeting outside of Afghanistan or with those visitors from outside who visit me in Afghanistan I am told. It is embarrassing to us. It damages our economy, destroys our environment, feeds violence and terrorism. So we have to destroy poppies for the sake of Afghanistan, for the sake of us being good Muslims, for the sake of our economy. The question is how to do it.

DF: How long will it take you to eradicate the growth of any poppies from Afghanistan? Is that a job for a lifetime or a generation or a decade?

HK: I was five years ago quite naive about this. I thought we would eradicate poppies one year and they would not be there the next year. Not thinking of the economic implications, not thinking of how this was going to be dealt with in real terms. Now I am much more realistic. I would give all of us, Afghanistan's international community, from five to ten years in order to be able to get rid of poppies. Eradication is one thing, on a yearly basis. Doing away with the business of poppies is another thing. And for doing away completely with this business we must be looking at a ten year period with a considerable amount of investment in the economy of the country, in the law enforcement of the country.

DF: How long will you need Nato troops in Afghanistan?

HK: Afghanistan still cannot protect itself. Afghanistan still does not have the institutions of the army and the police in manner that will be good enough to serve the country. The judiciary and all other state institutions need building up. While we are extremely sorry that young men and women from the international community are giving their lives here in Afghanistan, fighting the war against terror, protecting our country, it is primarily Afghan responsibility [to build up the institutions]. We have to do that.

Until we reach that point we will have to be together in this war. If I told you it would take five years I would be proved wrong. Let's say it will take a few more years - definitely more than five years - for Afghanistan to be able to defend itself and feed itself.

DF: In terms of your plans are you going to stand again at the next election in 2008? Do you plan to stay in power if the Afghan people say yes?

HK: If the Afghan people want me and if I feel that I have not yet delivered to the Afghan people what I should have delivered in five years, yes I will. But if I feel that I have fulfilled my responsibilities, that I can be comfortable in handing over to the next generation of Afghans, then I will do that. So it depends on how things are in two years from now.

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