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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs > Releases > Public Statements on South and Central Asian Policy > 2004

The Elections in Afghanistan

Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan
Washington, DC
October 19, 2004

(10:30 a.m. EDT)

MR. CASEY: Good morning, everyone, a pleasure for me to be able to welcome back Ambassador Khalilzad, who is once again back with us from Afghanistan. He's here to talk to you a little bit today about the Afghan elections, both what they meant to the country and where it means we're headed in our ongoing efforts to help the Afghan people rebuild their country and develop their democracy.

Mr. Ambassador.

QUESTION: This is on the record?

MR. CASEY: This is on the record.

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Thank you very much. Well, it's good to be back. I have been back on R&R for the last couple of days, but I've had quite a few meetings. I briefed the President yesterday, saw the Secretary this morning, and talked to Secretary Rumsfeld and Dr. Rice, as well, about the situation in Afghanistan, where we've been and where we ought to be heading.

First, let me say a word or two about the elections. I think it was a spectacular success, in my view. People, the people of Afghanistan, participated in the process massively and in a very orderly fashion. They participated with the view that this was an extremely important opportunity for them. For the first time in 5,000 years or so of the history of Afghanistan, they were participating in electing their president, their leader, and they were doing it in a direct and secret vote.

Women were also participating in the election of the president. At times in the past, the kings of Afghanistan had been selected by a group of old men getting together, tribal chiefs somewhere, but here, it was men and women from all over the country. They had a sense of almost going to a celebration. They were wearing their best clothes. They were, some people, they were, you know, taking a shower or taking a bath, washing themselves. Some were putting henna on their hand, women, which they do for when they go to a wedding or a celebration.

And, of course, even in the face of threats that they faced. You know, when I was here the last time, I talked about the security challenges for the elections. The Taliban and al-Qaida had declared war on this election, so there was a real risk to people who went to vote. Some, like women in Bamian, there's some great stories that have come out of the Afghan election: One is with regard to some women in Bamian, who washed themselves and said their last prayers, as if they were going to go and get killed possibly, to go and vote and leave their homes at 3 o'clock in the morning and wait in snow and ice to vote at 7 in the morning.

Or people in Konar; there was an explosion near, about 100 yards from a polling station, where not a single person ran away. They said that we are going to vote. Or even when some of the candidates called at 1 in the afternoon, or 1:30 in the afternoon, with three hours or so left, and voting time for people to stop voting, not even some of their own people left -- their agents. Each candidate agents at these polling stations to see what was going on did not leave. So people wanted to vote and they participated in an unusual, surprising way, the determination and their desire to participate in the process.

Second, they knew what they were doing. They knew they were voting for their leader and to the future of Afghanistan, its political leadership being decided by them voting rather than by the rule of the gun, or use of gun, or coups, but that has been the experience of the Afghan people for the last at least 30 years. There were tanks, airplanes, machine guns being used to change regimes.

Here, they selected to do it in a different way, and I think their suffering of the last 30 years made the people of Afghanistan wiser, more pragmatic. They know what they want. And one of the things that they want is to be able to elect their own leaders.

Also, I think the election process help with nation building. As you know, Afghanistan has been a fragmented country as a result of all of these wars. And candidates having to go from their area to other areas, hire election workers from a different ethnic group, form relationships with people from other areas in order to get votes, I think was also helpful for them in that regard.

And I think the security institutions of Afghanistan, as well as the coalition and NATO did extremely well. I was particularly pleased with the performance of the Afghan security institution. It shows that they -- that they have arrived, they've delivered very well. The Taliban tried to disrupt this election. They failed, and the failure was largely due to effective action, preventive and preemptive action of the Afghan security institutions backed by the coalition and the international community.

And it also showed, the election, that the Taliban did not have much support among the people because they called on the people not to vote. They threatened them. They even said that they -- there was a report of a statement that they would cut the finger that this indelible ink was going to be used on. And Afghans were spending a lot of time how to deal with this. Some people were saying maybe the ink should not be put on the finger. It should be put somewhere in other parts of the body so it wouldn't be apparent to the Taliban, who might stop people and check their fingers.

But, nevertheless, the people went and voted massively. And one of the reasons why security problems of the kind that were anticipated did not happen in reality it was because the people reported on Taliban. There was a lot of information that came to both Afghan and coalition forces from individuals, Afghan individuals.

Two, three other quick points: I think Pakistan also played a more positive role with regard to the election. I think the meeting that President Bush hosted with President Karzai and President Musharraf in New York before the election asking President Musharraf to play a positive role in helping with the Afghan elections, I think that paid off, and I think it has had a positive effect on Afghan-Pakistan relations and the cooperative attitude of Pakistan during these elections.

Going from here forward, of course, the big issues that the Government of Afghanistan faces is putting together an Administration that can deliver to the people in terms of security and services that they demand. Up to now, the government was seen as a group that was put together by the international community, UN at Bonn.

Now, whoever is elected, whether it's Karzai or someone else, has the mandate, will have the mandate of the Afghan people to put a government together and Afghan people's expectation will be high from this government on corruption, on delivery of services to the people of Afghanistan.

The second agenda item, I think, for the government will be to finish off the Taliban. I think they have shown themselves to be weak and divided with a combination of effective military action based on lessons learned from the elections. With accountability and reconciliation as the other component of an approach, I think the government has an opportunity to make substantial progress. And Pakistan's cooperation on this will be important. I think this will be an important agenda item for the next government in Afghanistan.

Very important to accelerate also, I think, the buildup of the Afghan security institutions, the Afghan National Army and the police, and also to complete, as planned, the demobilization of militia forces and cantonment of weapons. A lot of progress has been made, especially in the last four weeks before the election on these issues.

I think by June of next year, the government plan calls for total demobilization of militia forces. And this must happen now with the -- a mandate from the people and the -- all indications are that this is a concern, a high concern of the people: the collection of weapons, the demobilization of militias, and the government will have to deliver on that.

Two other things quickly: 1) Narcotics. This is a large threat to the future of Afghanistan. The new government would have to deal with this. We're willing to work with Britain and with the Afghan Government in this area. We've been thinking a lot about this issue in the course of the last several weeks and months, and we're on the verge of embracing a more robust strategy to deal with this problem. I think this is a huge challenge for the new government.

And lastly, I think we will try to transform the current cooperation against terror as Afghanistan succeeds, that to transform this relationship with this cooperation to a long-term strategic partnership between Afghanistan and the United States. And I think the election was a big success. It shows that Afghanistan is heading in the right direction and that our policy on Afghanistan, what we have put together to transform this country from being a base of international terror, a failed state, to become a successful country, a partner, to play a positive role in that region. We are on the right track and we just need to stay the course.

Thank you very much.

MR. CASEY: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.

Barry, you want to go ahead?

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, you gave us a detailed listing of the goals, of the U.S. goals. On either -- well, the question is: Are you confident that whoever emerges will share your views, or is it just a no-brainer that Karzai is going to win, so you don't have to think about it too much and worry about other potential leaders?

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: I have talked with the key candidates for president. I've -- and it's fair to say that President Karzai was the likely winner, as I think you've seen the results of the count so far which more than a quarter of the votes have been counted and Karzai, at this point, has over 60 percent of the vote.

But even the second runner up, so to speak, Mr. Qanooni or the other two leading candidate share these goals. They would like to have a close relationship with the United States. They would like to provide security for the Afghan people. And the reason for it is, is that the people of Afghanistan want this.

These are the demands of the Afghan people. And I'll give you a couple of quick anecdotes. One, that when, on the day of the election some of the candidates announced that there should be a boycott, and then the next couple of days they changed their view, it was because the people reacted to that negatively. And that reaction had a disciplining affect on them. And I think what I have outlined to you is based on the polling and the conversations that I have had with the people of Afghanistan. So I am confident that if someone else was to be the winner, the agenda will not be that different.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, I wanted to ask you a question or two about your own role in recent events in Afghanistan. The U.S. posture in Afghanistan seems to have changed a lot since you became Ambassador. It seems to have become more muscular. Do you think that is due to the fact that you, yourself, are Afghan and the President's Special Envoy? And do you -- why do you think the people in Afghanistan refer to you as "the Viceroy?"

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: I don't know whether the people of Afghanistan know the word "viceroy." I think it's tagged as a name that the -- some of the journalists have given to me.

I think the people of Afghanistan, as I said, want their country to succeed, and they are -- don't want to go back to the old days. And that's not surprising, given the conditions in Afghanistan earlier.

They look to the United States to help them succeed. And they want us to help them. I have joked with President Karzai at times that, "Look, you know, you're asking us, or the Afghan people are asking us to do so many things. Would it not appear to some as if we were kind of not being as sensitive to the appearance of whether we were, kind of, too involved in helping Afghanistan?" And he said, "Don't worry about that. If we do the right thing, and if doing the right thing requires U.S. assistance, even if the assistance is a little more than what would be the case if between two states that have arrived, so to speak, that the Afghan people want to succeed and they would want us to do what it takes for them to succeed, even if that means a significant U.S., a degree of U.S. involvement."

They fear, not U.S. over involvement; what the Afghans fear is abandonment by the U.S. more, because they had this experience after the Soviet departure. We were very involved with them during the 1980s. I used to work in this building at that time. And then the Soviets left and we also left, and then the country fell apart, civil war and the terrible Taliban period. They don't want us to do that again.

With regard to myself, personally, I have the advantage or the disadvantage that I'm known to the, there, from before taking on this job. I speak the languages of Afghanistan. They understand from my earlier work that I want the best for them, and I -- my role there is to help them succeed. I tell them this all the time, you know, the Afghans -- "I'm the happiest of you don't need me and I can stay in my hooch or my trailer at the Embassy and, you know, surf the computer.

But failure is not an option. We must succeed. This is important for the United States. It's important for the people of Afghanistan. And if you need my help, you can call me at any time and I'm available -- 2 or 3, 4, 5 in the morning -- and we can talk as much as we need to talk, we can drink as much tea as we need to drink, but we've got to make progress, we've got to succeed."

And I think that that formula of listening to people, working with them, appealing to their self-interests and having the support of the Afghan people with us is, I think, in my view, is the reason for the progress that we are making.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on that?


QUESTION: There seems to be a perception on the streets -- I'm speaking primarily of Kabul -- that you can do just about anything. We had one of -- a policeman came up to my colleague in Kabul yesterday and asked him to ask you to get him a pay raise. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Right. Well, they are very kind to me, the people of Afghanistan. I told you, they're very kind to me and they have a lot of expectation from the United States and from me personally. I have to tell -- I tell them all the time that we're here to help the Afghan Government succeed, that we have a lot at stake in their success. We -- failure, as I said, is not an option.

And these -- I do, some people do come to me when I'm in Kabul, give me a little note about, you know, their mother having a problem, a medical problem, or, their, you know, their kid, you know, not going to the right school and so on. And I do try to respond to that. I do try to respond to that. I think they treat me a little different, perhaps, than, I would say, than they might have treated someone else who doesn't -- who is not from that background and doesn't speak the language and can't, you know, kind of understand and empathize with them, perhaps, to the degree that I assume I must because I who I am and my background.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, you said that the goals that you outlined have the support of the Afghan people, but the poppy and opium industry is something close to half the Afghan economy.


QUESTION: How are you going to keep the support of the people for eradicating that? And can you shed some light on why it's taken this long, really, to tackle the problem, which was part of the goals at the outset?


Well, first with regard to the importance of this to the -- in terms of the size of the problem, of course it's a problem that's been growing, even in -- during the last three years.

And two, but Afghans broadly recognize that this is an illegal, illegitimate thing to do. So the way to tackle it is, in my view, first, that you have to provide alternative livelihood that's legitimate. If people can take care of their families doing it legitimately, then I think that's what they would want to do.

Second, you've got to make it risky for people to do it. And that means, in terms of eradication and in terms of law enforcement. You know, Afghan institutions have limited capacity. You need to make examples of people, whether they are in government or outside, who are involved in drug trafficking and narcotic business. That has not been done to the degree that it must be done. But these institutions did not exist, so they're just beginning to come into being.

The third thing is that, you know, we have to go after labs. Because what makes it profitable is the demand generated from lab for opium. And there are quite a few labs in Afghanistan and they need to be destroyed. And the risks of this endeavor needs to be explained better to Afghans: The risk to the Afghan political system because of the monies involved; the risk to Afghan environment from the labs, the material that they leak, the water system of the country; the risk to Afghan kids because, you know, it's -- Afghans are not atypical. If you do these things, it affects your own society.

So we -- the Brits have had the lead. We have not focused on what needs to be done on this issue as -- and now, in cooperation with Britain, we're going to be more focused on this, and I think the Afghans themselves also appreciate the fact. I, certainly I know President Karzai does, that this problem needs to be focused on in a way that has not, perhaps, been done in recent time.

MR. CASEY: Let's get Matt in there because he --

QUESTION: You -- I just wanted to follow up on that briefly and then ask something kind of unrelated. But you said that you're on the verge of a new, robust program. There has been some not-so-subtle criticism from the United States about the British and their efforts. What is this? What are you on the verge of doing?

And secondly, you talked a bit about the role that Afghanistan's eastern neighbor played, a positive role in this. What about the Iranians? Did they sit this one out?

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, on the first question, I think it's better to work in cooperation with Britain.

The problem has gotten worse and we want Britain and Europe, which is mostly affected by drugs produced in Afghanistan, to do more. But also, since the drug trafficking affects the future of Afghanistan, and also it's the source of money to extremists and terrorists, it affects us as well. So we need to, together, develop an appropriate strategy that does eradication; it does interdiction; it does alternative livelihood; it does law enforcement; it does a kind of public diplomacy elements. We all should do more on this. We have to do more in order to deal with this problem.

On the Iranian issue, I think that the Iranian Government, with regard to the refugees in Iran, played a positive role. There were initial difficulties -- whether the refugees there would be able to vote. They did vote.

And I think with regard to the security problems along the border, which I was referring to Pakistan, I think there wasn't any noticeable change. There wasn't an increase or a change in regard to the threat. From that border, people coming across has been a smaller problem than from the Pakistan side of the border.

QUESTION: Right. But Iran has been -- I mean, they did not have the best relationship in the world with the Taliban, as you well know. And they have vested interests in -- or they have at least significant interest, arguably greater interest than the United States do, than the United States does, in what happens on their eastern border. So then, you didn't notice any kind of stealth attempts at influencing things in a way that --

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, I don't want the comment about their "stealth activities," given that this is an open forum. But let's say I didn't see any change with regard to the Iranian activities in Afghanistan during the election.

I think that in Iran, of course, as I've said before, there are kind of two policies. There is, there are two different elements in the government. I think it's fair to say that the foreign ministry and the president have been more positive towards developments in Afghanistan. I think some of the more hardline elements in the past Iran and others have been more concerned about the positive developments in Afghanistan. But on election, I did not see any change in Iranian policy.

QUESTION: Can I follow on the subject of Iran?


QUESTION: What's the status of the Six plus Two?

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: It's no longer an operating entity.

QUESTION: Should it be or should it not be?

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, of course, the Six plus Two was prior to the liberation of Afghanistan. There is in Afghanistan now -- of course, ambassadors from different countries are there. There is the UN. There are meetings convened by the UN in which ambassadors participate. I have participated in P5 ambassadors meeting there. There are neighbors and interested parties that the UN convenes that the UN deems helpful or needed for deliver the situation in Afghanistan.

So I think there are appropriate foras and meetings and groupings and gatherings that discuss the Afghanistan issue in Kabul, as well as overseas.

MR. CASEY: Elise, did you want to?

QUESTION: Yes, if you -- just along these lines you’re talking about, you mentioned -- you talked a little bit about Pakistan, the helpful role that it played and how President Bush was kind of trying to, you know, facilitate that. Could you flesh that out a little bit, in terms of, you know, what the President was looking for from Pakistan and how the U.S. was involved in that, and what, in fact, they did do and how that helps -- how that helps the relationship? Is it solely a border issue?

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, it was largely a security issue. And as I was saying earlier, the President invited President Musharraf, President Karzai to a meeting in New York during the General Assembly meeting and urged cooperation and to provide security for the Afghan election. And I think it's fair to say that Pakistani statements and steps taken had a positive effect. They were positive and -- those statements and actions. So it would look to me that the president's initiative to bring these two leaders together and urge cooperation with regard to security for the Afghan election produced the desired results.

QUESTION: Was that meeting in New York Musharraf's idea or was that --

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: No, it was President Bush's idea.

QUESTION: Or your idea?

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, it was President Bush's idea.

MR. CASEY: We'll have two more. We'll go over here, and then go to Saul last, and I think we'll have to break up after that.

QUESTION: My name is (inaudible), I work for Radio Free Europe, Afghanistan Service.

Mr. Ambassador, I want to ask you something about U.S. election because some of Afghan people, they are worried about this. They think that if something is change in United States system, the policy of United States will be changed about Afghanistan. I don't know. What do you think?

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: I think as a country, we have a lot at stake in the success of Afghanistan. And we have seen where the failure of Afghanistan causes problems that can have an effect on the security of the American people. We saw that on September the 11th. We know that there are still extremists and terrorist groups active in Afghanistan along the border and in Pakistan, who do not wish us well.

And also, for us, I have said before that the problem, the defining problem, of our time is this terrorism and extremism in the Greater Middle East from Pakistan to Morocco. And, therefore, any administration here would have to worry about the security of the American people, would have to worry about the problem of terrorism and extremism in that region, and would have to continue the policies that we have been pursuing in order to achieve success.

I think the Administration has had appropriate goals for Afghanistan and has had a strategy to pursue this. That strategy is on track, but it requires to be sustained. I have said that if the journey of getting Afghanistan to stand on its own feet is a 10-mile journey, we have just passed mile 3. So we still have a long way to go, and I believe that the requirements of the situation and the security interests of the American people would push any administration to essentially follow the approach that we are implementing in Afghanistan. I don't see a good alternative to it, to sustaining the course that we've been on.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up to that?

MR. CASEY: Sure.


QUESTION: What are the -- you said the Afghan people don't want to be abandoned.


QUESTION: What are the prospects for long-term American bases for equipment pre-positioning, now that you -- it seems unlikely that could happen in Iraq?

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, I think the Afghan people want to have a strategic relationship with the United States, including security, a strategic security relationship. That's what they want. The Afghan Government wants that. That was part of the platform of President Karzai: that he would seek to transform the current cooperation in the war against terror to a strategic partnership with the United States.

We are going to respond favorably to that. We're going to work with them to come to an understanding, an agreement on this. It will take some time to work out the details, but we support the idea of a strategic relationship with Afghanistan for the long term.

QUESTION: So bases, yes?

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, we favor a strategic relationship that has security elements as part of it for the long term with Afghanistan.

MR. CASEY: Saul, next question.

QUESTION: When you say the Afghan people wants to finish up the Taliban and the government will have to do that, part of it you said is the military operation, and the other part sounded a little more political.


QUESTION: You talk about reconciliation.

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: And accountability.


AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: And what that means is that there has to be an agreement among Afghans -- and I think they are talking about this amongst themselves -- to identify whatever number of Taliban leaders must come, must be brought to justice. They have no place to hide. We will -- and the Afghans ourselves will be after those people for crimes they have committed against the Afghan people or their work with terrorists.

But there may be -- along with that accountability reconciliation that all wars must come to an end at some point, and that people will accept as individuals, the Afghan constitution, want to live in peace, and renounce violence and terror and that they could come back to their villages and towns and live as peaceful citizens and to go through a process that the Afghan Government would have to develop.

QUESTION: So their ideas were not new. How is the Taliban responding to it?

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: I think that everybody has been waiting for this election to test their -- kind of test of will of where the people are. I think the people of Afghanistan have spoken as to what they want, where do they want to go, and I think -- and the Taliban have seen what it is that -- their worth in the eyes of the Afghan people, and this is a right time to do a lessons learned from what they were able and were not able to do, and adjust our military tactics and the coalition tactics and Afghan tactics on the military front, based on the lessons learned here. But at the same time, to move forward towards implementation, which will require Pakistani cooperation as well on this, what I would call a balanced approach between accountability, and that there must be accountability, but there also must be reconciliation. And I think this will be an important agenda item for the Afghan Government post-election.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, appreciate it.


QUESTION: Do you have one last word on warlords and where they stand?


QUESTION: How are the warlords?

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: I think that we have made a lot of progress in breaking the backbone of warlordism in Afghanistan. Seventy-five percent of heavy weapons in Herat have been cantoned. Nationwide, 57 percent of all heavy weapons have been cantoned that were in the hands of militia leaders. In addition, some 20,000 militia forces have been decommissioned in the last several months. There is about 30,000, or so left that must be decommissioned by June.

The balance of power is shifting decisively in favor of the government. Now, the government has a military force of over 15,000 strong and growing. We're going to go -- we're looking at going from four battalions being trained simultaneously to five. As the militias are coming down, the Afghan National Army is growing -- police, over 30,000 policemen have been trained.

So, I believe that even the militia leaders recognize that warlordism is a dying institution and they all want to have other jobs, to get out of being militia leaders to do other things. That's an indication that they want to be part of the future. Those who do not cooperate with the process of decommissioning, civilianizing the militias, I think they don't have a good future in Afghanistan.

We have seen that the people want that and even the toughest regional leaders have not been able to stand up when they have been asked to be removed from their positions. So I think warlordism is dying in Afghanistan. I think if we can also kill Talibanism and deal with narcotics issue, Afghanistan will be well on its way to be a successful country. And I think for us, given our stakes in that part of the world, it will be a huge success. It will be good for Afghanistan. It will be good for us and good for the world.

Thank you.


Released on October 20, 2004

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