Karzai: Corruption in the whole system
President Hamid Karzai speaks out about Afghanistan's political instability and fledgling economy.
(Fortune Magazine) -- With books about George Washington arrayed on a shelf behind him in his office in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai talked to Fortune recently about the nation-building challenges that still confront his country five years after the fall of the Taliban.
Where is Afghanistan failing most?
Our revenues are shameful. We'll be collecting something like $500 million this year. But we should be in a hurry to raise revenues much more and faster. There is corruption in the whole system, whether it's in the ministries, the NGOs, the donors' implementation of projects, in all spheres of the Afghan recovery.
You've been criticized for tolerating ministers who are technocratically weak but politically influential.
You have to carry the past in a way that will not hurt what you are building for the future - have a reasonable sense of inclusivity in order to protect the progress you want to achieve tomorrow. And we have done it.
But you have almost unanimous support in the international community. Couldn't you force your vision without accommodating these characters?
The international community did not stand with me on these issues. They said, 'No green on green' [no internal conflict among the anti-Taliban coalition]. So it isn't a blank check. Look at what we have, though. I am very proud. Four and a half million refugees have returned. Children are going back to school. Whatever was asked of us in the Bonn agreement, we have delivered on time: the constitution, the presidential elections, the parliamentary elections. And the economy has done marvelously. Things could have been better, but things could have been much worse too.
The new NATO forces say they will defeat the poppy barons. Why haven't you taken them out?
It's a problem that is deeply run into our society. This country's desperation in the last 30 years brought a serious dependence of our people on poppy cultivation. It's 30 percent of our economy. That's massive. Can you in one day, in one year, in two years, get rid of that? It needs dedicated work by the international community. We have very good agriculture. But you can't tell me, 'Well, grow pomegranates, grow grapes, grow cucumbers or watermelons, and I'm not going to buy it from you.' If the international community wants to help us get rid of narcotics, they must help us all around, buying our products.
The election is coming up in 2009. Are you running for President again?
I want to have this country stable and constitutionally strong. I want to leave this country with a stable environment of alternative leaders. And I don't think it is good to be running all the time. Let other people get a chance to run.