Secretary Rumsfeld Joint Availability with Afghan President Karzai
(Participating were Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. This availability was held at the Presidential Palace, Kabul, Afghanistan.)
Karzai: Ladies and Gentlemen (Coughs.), excuse me, we had a heavy lunch. An excellent, excellent lunch. I am very happy to have Secretary Rumsfeld for the fifth time or the sixth time? Fifth time I believe. Sixth time? Sixth time, lets take it to the sixth time in Afghanistan in the past two years. The only difference this time is that he followed in Mrs. Rumsfeld’s footsteps, and she stayed for three days. He is here only for a day, but of course he has things to do back in America. We discussed the continuation of the cooperation that the two countries have in matters related to the fight against terrorism, the building of the Afghan defense forces, and the institutional building in Afghanistan. We discussed about the progress that Afghanistan has made, and the future needs of Afghanistan, and the continued U.S. assistance with Afghanistan. We were reassured once again, as in the past occasions, that America would stay with Afghanistan until Afghanistan is firmly, firmly on its own feet with regard to its own defense forces. With regard to its own capabilities to defend itself in the fight against terror to secure its borders. We welcome him once again to Afghanistan, and we cherish the relationship that we have established with the United States and with the Secretary of Defense Mr. Rumsfeld in securing a better future for our people. Thank you.
Rumsfeld: I’m delighted to be back. I’m told it is my sixth visit. And in each case I’ve been impressed with the progress I’ve seen. The excitement and the energy one sees in this growing city. I certainly want to congratulate you and your team for contributing so much to the energy that I’ve seen. Think about it: two and a half years and Afghanistan has been liberated. Twenty-five million Afghans have been freed from tyranny. Because of the bond process Afghans have taken hold of this country and are making steady progress on the path to self government and to self reliance. With the training of the Afghan National Army, and the police now under way, Afghans are taking an increasing role in providing in their own security, and that’s impressive. Last year to support our decision to accelerate reconstruction the President requested, and Congress authorized, some 1.7 billion dollars in assistance for Afghanistan. Since then, coalition countries have established now a dozen Provincial Reconstruction Teams they are I think another five or six that are en route. Your central government is extending its reach in a positive and constructive way and has been energizing the provincial governments which is, I think, exceedingly important. With the regional strategy, Afghan and coalition forces are now conducting joint operations against terrorists and then following up immediately with focused reconstruction assistance. Last month with the successful completion of the Constitutional Loya Jirga the Afghan people approved a new constitution, and equally important, the world had an opportunity to see that process take place, and to see the debate, discussion, the free exchange of views, the compromises that took place and the progress -- a constitution that protects the rights of all citizens of Afghanistan, including Afghan women who have made such substantial gains since the defeat of the Taliban regime. Direct presidential elections are being prepared now for later this year. All of this has been accomplished in two and a half years. In a country that for some decades had known tyranny, occupation, and war it’s a remarkable transformation. This morning we were in Kandahar, and had a chance to visit the provincial reconstruction team there, to meet with Governor Pashtoon. I was impressed personally with the progress that’s being made with that PRT. It only started I think in November. They have accomplished a number of projects, and have many more under way. As I have said to you personally, our coalition is committed to helping the Afghan people succeed as they tackle the task of building a new nation under your leadership. I mentioned to you that last month I was in Munich with the NATO ministers of defense, and there is a great deal of support in the NATO alliance for continuing to assist Afghanistan in it’s security area, and increasingly so over the coming months, and I suspect years. The free world has a stake in Afghanistan’s success. This country has gone in a short period form a haven for terrorists to a coalition ally in the war against terrorism. Freedom is clearly taking root in this country, and Afghanistan is on a path to become a model for freedom and moderation in the Muslim world. Thank you, sir.
Q: The Pakistani Military has sharply increased their cooperation in the tribal areas and along the border. I’d ask you sir is the task broken or has Osama been ridden?
Rumsfeld: Well, one would certainly hope so.
Q: Are you closer to the capture?
Rumsfeld: We’ve talked about this for two or three years now. Close doesn’t count. The world will be a better place when he is captured or killed. That is the goal of a great many nations. Ninety nations in the global war on terror, and it will happen when it happens, and I don’t believe it’s closer or farther at any given moment. All I know is there are wonderful people in lots of countries who are demonstrating a seriousness of purpose and a great deal of skill. And the intent is there, and suspect we’ll accomplish that at some point in the future, and I wouldn’t have any idea when.
Q: Following up on that, what are the group thoughts on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden? Do you believe he is in Pakistan, and what do you think it will take to capture Hekmatyer?
Rumsfeld: I’m not going to speculate as to whether he’s in Pakistan or Afghanistan, or in any other country. I can say that we are looking for him. The Americans, the Afghans, the Pakistanis, and those that are in the coalition with us. I would have a remark on him once we’ve captured him.
Q: Have you brought more troops into the country -- specifically have you used troops in border operations?
Rumsfeld: First of all we don’t talk about what we do with our troops for the most part, nor do we talk about operations, but we move troops around the world on a daily basis at different levels and it is nothing new or notable. The central command is under the leadership of John Abizaid, and we work with him so that he has the kinds of forces, and the number of forces he believes he needs in his entire area of operation.
Q: We’re a bit concerned about the number of outcasts who are already registered to vote and you expressed some doubts. Secretary Rumsfeld just said something “later this year.” Can you clarify that for us?
Karzai: We are together with the United Nations and the countries helping us in the matter of elections to register by the end of May, that’s June, 10 million Afghans for election. Today we have a little over 1.4 million Afghans registered. If this trend continues we’ll have in another month or twenty days or more 2 million Afghans registered. Once we recognized that the time was short and that we had to fulfill the promises made in bone and the legitimacy granted to us by the Loya Jirga of the voting in Afghanistan to June of 2004, we prepared with the United Nations a massive technically strong plan to prepare until the end of April to launch 4,000, 200 locations, 12 thousand registration sites with the help of 30,000 people to go and register. Both men and women all over the country and to fulfill the registration of eight million other Afghans in that period. We are strongly hopeful that this will succeed this plan. It’s a massive plan. Now, if by the end of May -- the beginning of June -- we don’t have 10 million Afghans registered, we will sit down and think if it is right to go for elections or not. Because we must have the people who are franchise age, voting age. We must have them register. The enthusiasm in the Afghan people for registration is strong in them. They keep asking us every day as to when and how are the registration people going to be in contact with them. So we have the platform ready for it, which is the willingness and the desire for it for the people to register and participate in voting. We must prepare, and implement, and succeed in the other part of it, which is the technicality of freeing the people to register. If we complete that, we will have elections on time.
Q: What about security?
Karzai: Security, in my mind -- we don’t consider that a problem. Security will remain a problem in Afghanistan today, it will be there in June, it will be there in July, it will be there in October, and next year perhaps too. Afghanistan and the world is not going to be a 100 percent secure place in one or two or three years time. So security is not a concern. Security was not a concern when we were preparing for the Loya Jirga elections. But we did it, and there was over 85 percent participation. Now regardless of that we are going to work for elections, and we hope if we are technically able to have it on time. Otherwise we go to the Afghan people and explain, and we’ll have it later. Security has never been in my mind on this. It has been the technical problem of how and what manner to reach the Afghan people.
Q: After three years of fighting against the Taliban, how much of a threat is the Taliban now?
Rumsfeld: Well, I suppose it be a better question to pose to President Karzai or General Barno who’s here, but I’ve not seen any indication that the Taliban pose a military threat to Afghanistan. I think the situations are so different, that to equate them is probably not a good idea. On the other hand, terrorists are terrorists. Terrorists tend to engage in killing innocent men, women, and children. They tend to avoid trying to take on military capabilities that they know they can’t handle. And that’s why it takes a variety of techniques to go after the terrorists, where they are and to prevent them form killing innocent people. But I think trying to connect the two situations probably is not a useful thing.
Karzai: Let me add something to that. Everything that happens in Afghanistan is not terrorist related. Lack of security times is not Taliban related or terrorist related. There is banditry too, there is theft too. There is armed robbery too. Now every act that is committed by a Kalishnkov is not an act done either by the Taliban or al Qaeda. Sometimes it’s theft. Sometimes it’s institutional weakness. A lot of times we have noticed wrongs committed by people that are working for the government. So in Afghanistan, as far as terrorism is concerned, the Taliban are concerned, we strongly believe with evidence that they are defeated. They are gone. The terrorist that killed 19 children in Kandahar -- and then he tried to hide in somebody’s house -- the woman in that house brought him out of hiding, and delivered him to the police. Likewise, there are four or five incidents in the past three months were people have arrested a terrorist and delivered him to the police. In Ghazni, where the French lady was killed, and on other occasions we don’t see a resurgence of the Taliban. The Taliban as a movement does not exist any more. You’d be surprised if I disclosed to you as to how many approaches we have form the Taliban on a daily basis. Individuals, groups coming back to talk to us to let them back into the country to just have them back in Afghanistan. Or those who are in Afghanistan. I asked the governor of Oruzgan, I said “How much of what you have is terrorist Taliban related, how much of what you have is something else?” He told me that he does not see a Taliban threat anymore. So in Afghanistan, we don’t have it as you think of it, as the media thinks of it. There are terrorist incidents. There are Taliban related activities. Sure, but the rest of it is normal life. Like a crime taking place in London, or in Shanghai, or in Washington. On an average Afghanistan is much more secure than other countries that you might think of in the world. I’m not going to compare Kabul to Washington. Probably you are more secure here than in Washington in terms of the crime on a daily basis and things like that. I’m not going to challenge him on that. But Kabul, Afghanistan, is more secure than lots of other capitals. So it’s not terrorist related, and I think we have won that war against terrorism. What we are going against is the pursuit of them. We are going to take them and finish them completely for a better Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld: I did that once, and I was advised that it wasn’t the best idea. But there are hundreds of homicides in most major cities in the world without getting particular.
Karzai: Exactly, and let me add to that. The security that we have today in Kabul is because the president of ISAF and the international coalition forces. That has to be acknowledged.
Q: Are you seeing any reaction to the Pakistani president with al Qaeda moving across the border anything along those lines?
Rumsfeld: Well I must say I think the efforts that are being made in Pakistan by the Pakistan government to track down terrorists are encouraging, and constructive and in a number of instances they’ve been successful.
Q: Was there a reaction to the al Qaeda?
Rumsfeld: I don’t know that I could answer that. Clearly there’s pressure being put on terrorists. All over the world, but most recently, and with a great deal of energy, and some success in Pakistan, for which we are very grateful.
Q: Secretary, you’ve been in Europe meeting with NATO leaders, has there been any progress in the effort to get them to move more troops to Afghanistan? Some Afghans are concerned about the possible flagging interests by Europe both nationally and militarily in helping Afghanistan? Quick question for Mr. Karzai: Any plans being made in meeting with Makital?
Rumsfeld: The meeting I had in Munich with the Defense Ministers of NATO suggested and indicated a good deal of support on the part of the NATO nations for participation here in Afghanistan. It was an enormous step for NATO to take over the ISAF responsibility here. It was the first time in the history of the alliance that they’d done something outside of Europe and outside of the NATO treaty area, and it was a big step. They have now indicated that they want to expand that somewhat outside of Kabul and now have talked about the Konduz PRT. During the course of my meetings there I talked to any number of members of the alliance, and the partnership for peace countries, and they committed to another five provincial reconstruction teams. I see the interest as high and I see the contributions as growing.
Karzai: On meeting with Makital, we have daily approaches by the Taliban leaders both those that were in Afghanistan, and those that were in Pakistan who want to come back and stay in Afghanistan who recognize that Afghanistan is now a better place for all of us to live in, and they want to benefit from this opportunity provided by the new Afghanistan. Like Makatil, there have been other approaches that have come to us from various leaders of them. Mr. Makatil sent us a letter about six months ago or five months ago, and we asked some people from the Afghan government to meet with them. In that letter, Mr. Matakil has asked to meet with me. I have not yet considered that, but we are thinking of how we should deal with these matters. We have had a number of meetings in the National Security Council. Generally, I should tell you that all those Taliban who were not involved in al Qaeda or terrorism and who have not committed crimes in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world are free to return to their country and live a normal life. The ones that have linkages to terrorism and al Qaeda, or are members of al Qaeda and have committed crimes, they are not welcome, and that number is very limited. The rest of them are welcome to back to their country. Thank you very much.