SPIEGEL: Mr. President, the international community is meeting in Bonn to consult about the future of Afghanistan. Last year, foreign ministers gathered in Kabul for a similar conference and the location alone was seen as a sign of progress. Is your capital too dangerous to host such a meeting?
Karzai: That's the wrong way to see it. The Kabul conference was a symbol that the Afghans were ready to arrange such a meeting by themselves and in their own country. The Bonn conference is a celebration of 10 years since the first Bonn conference. We could not do this anywhere other than Bonn. We want to talk about what we have achieved, what we have done wrong and what we can do better in the future.
SPIEGEL: The focus of the conference, among other issues, will be the security situation in Afghanistan. In recent months, it has not improved much, as can be seen by the murders of several government officials, governors and, most recently, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Karzai: We all hoped at the first Bonn conference that the arrival of the international community would bring peace and stability back to Afghanistan along with a lot of other achievements we have been awaiting for so long. Of these, we have achieved some, and they are massive achievements. What we don't have yet is security for the Afghan people -- a successful campaign against the terrorism in our country. That is the biggest shortcoming of ours. I hope that we will achieve that goal in the next 10 years.
SPIEGEL: In the West, most of the talk recently has centered on withdrawal, despite the precarious security situation in Afghanistan. Does that make you uncomfortable?
Karzai: I don't see any reason so far to ask for a later pull-out at this moment. I am confident we will get there according to the timeline that we all made together. As of 2014, Afghan forces will have taken over security efforts in the whole country. In Bonn, I will present my vision for the next 10 years and how the international community could assist us.
SPIEGEL: What would you like to see?
Karzai: I will not be asking for money. The West didn't come for Afghanistan in the first place. They came for their own security, and we joined hands in this fight against international terrorism. We needed them, they needed us. We are and will be on the front lines of the fight against terrorism and we lose people everyday. We are grateful for all the help we get from Western countries, but the efforts in Afghanistan are also a shared responsibility. If we fail on the path to a stable Afghanistan, the old days and a situation as before the terrible attacks of 9/11 might come back sooner than we think.
SPIEGEL: How exactly do you envision Western assistance going forward?
Karzai: The military part will be completed by the end of 2014. From then on I think Afghanistan will rely for 10 more years on the contributions and help of the international community. But it will be a different partnership. It will focus more on training and equipping the Afghan forces and adding to the ability of Afghan institutions to become more effective. Some economic aid will be necessary to help Afghanistan get back on its feet. It is the dividend of the transition. If the US cuts troop levels, for example, to around 20,000 soldiers in 2014, they would save around $100 billion per year compared to current spending. If we get 5 percent of that, around $5 billion a year, we would say fine. It won't be the same amount of money the international community is paying now; in the end, Western countries would save a lot of money.
SPIEGEL: There are widespread doubts that the Afghan military will be able to shoulder the security responsibilities on its own. Many observers fear the outbreak of a new civil war in the country once NATO troops withdraw. Are you not concerned?
Karzai: I don't agree with that view even though I read it every day in the Western press. The Afghan forces will be able to defend Afghanistan at that point, I am sure of that. The US will continue to have an engagement in the form of a strategic partnership and we will give them bases. Germany is our most beloved partner in this and if you ask me, the German military does not have to leave Afghanistan -- they could stay forever, but that is a German decision.
SPIEGEL: Your faith in the further presence of US troops is surprising. For months, you have openly criticized US Special Forces operations. Now, you told a meeting of the grand council Loya Jirga that you are in favor of a US presence beyond 2014.
Karzai: The casualties from the night raids and the bombardments are the biggest impediments to smooth relations between us and the United States. That led to my public outcry in interviews and statements -- and they have improved their tactics. That is what I said to the Loya Jirga.
SPIEGEL: But the number of operations has risen recently, as have the number of targeted killings.
Karzai: But we don't have casualties anymore among civilians. The American military agreed recently that all of these operations will be done by Afghans as soon as possible. It's a deal between two partners. If our demands are not met, the deal is obsolete.
SPIEGEL: You called a Loya Jirga for the most important questions regarding the strategic partnership with the United States even though Afghanistan also has a democratically elected parliament. Why did you not make use of this democratic instrument?
Karzai: The modern recognition of the Jirga is written into the constitution of Afghanistan and we are using it for very important decisions for the country.
SPIEGEL: From the outside it looks as though the parliament doesn't have much of a role to play when it comes to important questions.
Karzai: Parliament will have to vote on the decisions made as well. Consultation has deep roots in our history. The ready-made democracy of the West will never be the system in Afghanistan. We need a democracy which is Afghan owned and led, not for the sake of foreign interests.
SPIEGEL: For years now, you have been calling on the Taliban to begin negotiating with your government. But they have remained uninterested. Are they not just waiting for the time when international troops have withdrawn?
'Pakistan Still Has Other Objectives than Peace in Afghanistan'
Karzai: It is true that the reconciliation process has come to a stop since the murder of Rabbani. We need a point of contact to the Taliban to talk to them. Our previous contacts were suicide bombers who killed Rabbani in the end. As long as we don't have a phone number or an address for the Taliban, we have to talk to the Pakistanis, because they know where they are.
SPIEGEL: Has the peace process reached an end?
Karzai: We have to see this in a differentiated way. Thousands of Taliban joined this movement because of fear or because of harm they suffered from night raids or bombardments from the international troops. But these people have no ideological problem with us. As soon as the environment is ready, they will come and join us here is a peaceful society.
SPIEGEL: And when will that be?
Karzai: First we have to conclude the investigation into the murderers of Rabbani. That Pakistan is participating in the investigation is a step in the right direction. But we need to find a representative of the Taliban to talk to, and it is up to Pakistan to tell us who to talk to. So far, the Pakistanis still have other objectives than peace in Afghanistan and as long as that doesn't change, I don't see an environment to have useful talks with the Taliban.
SPIEGEL: In the last two years, private militias have popped up in many parts of the country in order to provide local security against the Taliban. Recently, reports have increased that these militias are terrorizing locals.
Karzai: All of these militias are illegal. Anything which is outside the purview of the Interior Ministry is illegal and has to be removed from the country. We will go after them.
SPIEGEL: And yet many of these militias have been set up with the support of ISAF, for example the one known as CIPP which is to protect infrastructure.
Karzai: What is that? (Karzai interrupts the interview to call for his security advisor, Rangin Dadfar Spanta.)
SPIEGEL: Many of the militias are, for example, protected by US Special Forces. Afghan courts have said they are powerless to pass judgement on the crimes they might commit.
Karzai: There you see where the problem is. We have been telling the Americans they have to stop doing this. Any force not under the command of the Interior Ministry or the Ministry of Defense has to go away. If there are foreign forces, it is a breach of Afghan sovereignty. This is a very important point of the tensions we have with the Americans.
SPIEGEL: And yet there are several militia leaders who have received high ranking appointments in the Afghan government despite their involvement in murders or the drug trade. The new police chief in Kandahar is one example. Why did your government appoint him?
Karzai: This is a person who served as a very effective man for the Afghan government for years and I have seen no evidence so far that he was involved in any crimes. Even more interesting is that this commander was wanted very much by the former ISAF commander here in Kabul, David Petraeus. Now, the international press condemns me for that move. This police chief, like many others, has been working with NATO forces for a long time and no one complained. Now that I have put him in a government post, everyone blames me. That is a double standard that I cannot understand. But it has led us to the point that we no longer care about Western complaints about our choices for government posts.
SPIEGEL: Many of your Western partners feel that you have broken many of your promises when it comes to the struggle against corruption.
Karzai: It's not true. Just today I signed the dismissal papers of a corrupt judge. We have made some progress on the reform of laws and the implementing of modern institutions, but there is still some work to do.
SPIEGEL: In the largest financial scandal of Afghanistan, surrounding the virtually bankrupt Bank of Kabul, your family too would seem to be involved. We have seen a protocol from former central bank head Abdul Qadir Fitrat who, in the presence of your brother, made clear that the bank was little more than a criminal organization and was close to collapse. It provided loans to fictitious companies and straw men. The bank managers invested in huge villas in Dubai. Why did nothing happen for a full year?
Karzai: We called in Fitrat and asked him and said we are hearing that there is something going wrong, but he said no. The Americans never told us about this. The bank didn't tell us.
SPIEGEL: But once the problems became apparent, why did your government prevent an audit of the bank by foreign experts?
Karzai: We believed a certain embassy was trying to create financial trouble for us. We felt the whole bank scam was created by foreign hands.
SPIEGEL: Which embassy?
Karzai: I will not go into details.
SPIEGEL: Your term comes to an end in 2014 and the law prevents you from running again. What do you plan to do then?
Karzai: I'll be a happy retired citizen. I never left Afghanistan even through difficult times. There is no reason for me to leave my country.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, thank you very much for this interview.