US Ambassador to Afghanistan: ‘I Didn’t Come Here to Be a Flower Pot’

KABUL – Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, gave an exclusive interview to Pajhwok News Agency. He discussed his role in the reconstruction effort and the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan’s future.

Pajhwok: How do you feel about being Afghan and representing the U.S.? What kind of conflicts do you face with this duality, and will you stay here after your post is completed?

Khalilzad: I’m happy that after 35 years of being away from Afghanistan, I could come back here and help the country toward progress and success. I was born in Afghanistan, my father is buried here, my mother lives here, and I studied here. I haven’t decided what to do after I finish this job. I don’t see a problem being Afghan and now a U.S. ambassador. But some, because of this, expect more from me. I feel the weight of this on my shoulders and I try my best on both sides.

Pajhwok: What do you and President Karzai talk about when you get together? Most Afghans think that you’re actually the president of Afghanistan and he’s a figurehead. What is your answer to the Afghan people?

Khalilzad: Mr. Karzai is now the chosen president of Afghanistan. I want to help the Afghan administration, and if there’s a problem that I can help solve with the Afghan government, its various ministries and organizations, we will help. The goal is so that Afghanistan will not need our help, but while there is a need, we will be there.

Pajhwok: What kind of help have you provided? For example, it has been said that there has been a lot of meddling and you have rejected this idea. But in very sensitive moments, you have met with different leaders, such as [Mohammad] Mohaqiq, [Abdul Rashid] Dostum, Ismail Khan, and details of those meetings have not been public. This is a good opportunity for us to ask: what was said in those meetings?

Khalilzad: About the discussions you mentioned, it depended on the time, and sometimes we talked about security and disarmament and reconstruction and other issues that were important to the success of Afghanistan. But all the talks we’ve had were with the consultation of the Afghan government.

I didn’t come here to be a flower pot. Our goal is to make sure problems are solved and I will not sit still if I see a problem. If that means that I personally or as a representative of the U.S. – we will do what is necessary.

Pajhwok: The issue is the coalition government that Karzai does not want to have again. That could cause security problems if the militia commanders are not given a role in the new government. How much help can the U.S. offer to maintain security?

Khalilzad: We haven’t discussed this yet. I went away for a few weeks. Karzai says he does not want to have a coalition, and the future government is up to them. He needs to come through with this promise, and that doesn’t mean that only one ethnicity will be a part of that government. There’s a need for a government that has national participation, including men and women, a government that will get the job done and one that has little corruption. The problems of the Taliban, warlordism, narcotics, and economics are important, but the type of government and the way it works is also important.

Pajhwok: How much can the United States government offer in military help if the militia commanders are ousted?

Khalilzad: The time of militia commanders is passing, warlordism is dying out, and the spinal cord of warlordism is being broken down. A successful Afghanistan is in need of one national army, law, government, and economy. Some of the warlords are paying attention to these structures, in order to take part in the reform process. This work is not done yet; it will take time, but the future is bright.

There were questions that the United States was supporting warlordism, but we’ve made it clear in the last year what politics we stand for. There shouldn’t be any questions. Afghanistan is a region of strategic and military importance for the U.S. and so is its success.

Pajhwok: The U.S. has removed some American intelligence forces from Herat, Kandahar, and Mazar and taken out surveillance planes and sent them to Iraq. Has the attention of the U.S. people shifted toward Iraq and away from Afghanistan, or is there no need in Afghanistan for these forces?

Khalilzad: I don’t know what you mean by these issues you’ve mentioned. Generally, saying that attention is more toward Iraq, and less toward Afghanistan, is wrong. Before getting involved in Iraq, the U.S. was helping Afghanistan, and is still doing so afterwards. I was personally involved in speeding up the process and getting $1.4 million added to the original budget. The number of soldiers has increased compared to the first couple of years of U.S. involvement here. If it is the reconstruction activities concerning security and economics, and even political issues, U.S. activities have increased. The United States can move forward in both countries, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Pajhwok: What about the U.S. report that was supposed to be published months ago on prisoners under United States control in Afghanistan? When is it actually being published? Human Rights Watch has commented on this issue.

Khalilzad: It’s complete, but it has to be broadcast. It has to be. I will talk to those responsible in the military to find out.