Following Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to the White House last week, host Rachel Martin talks with Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Khalilzad says Karzai achieved some of his objectives, notably an accelerated timeline for Afghan forces to take the lead in security operations.
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Zalmay Khalilzad served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 until 2005. He worked closely with President Hamid Karzai and he's continued to follow developments in Afghanistan as a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Ambassador Khalilzad came to our studio this week to talk about President Karzai and what he gained from the talks.
ZALMAY KHALILZAD: I think he got most of what he wanted. He wanted to have an acceleration, speeding up, of the transition to Afghan lead in terms of security. And he got that. He probably would have wanted an earlier termination of a combat mission for the United States. I think he didn't get that because the U.S. will remain until the end of 2014 in a combat role but more and more in support of the Afghan forces. But most importantly, both leaders committed to conclude as soon as possible a longer term bilateral security agreement that will shape the post-2014 U.S. presence in Afghanistan. We've got the numbers, mission, immunity for the forces and so on.
MARTIN: It's not a secret that the relationship between President Karzai and Washington has been rocky. Is it a problem of trust?
KHALILZAD: Well, it has been a complicated relationship. At certain levels, the relationship has been very strong and very close. But publicly at times, the relationship has seemed reflecting a degree of mutual distrust.
MARTIN: He has been painted in the Western press as being a wild card who takes from the U.S. with one hand and kind of throws the occasional punch with the other. Do you think that's a fair characterization?
KHALILZAD: Well, President Karzai has been for the most part a good friend. He has had a difficult job. He has done some things well.
MARTIN: What has he done well?
KHALILZAD: Well, I think the constitution that grants broad rights to the Afghans, unprecedented in Afghanistan, an enlightened constitution. People don't go to jail because they have a view that is different than his. He has encouraged education. Health care has improved. But where he has had difficulties has been in building strong institutions and also dealing with corruption, which is one of the consequences of weak institutions and accountability. And I think when he gets criticized, he has at times blamed the United States and the West for the corruption, rather than taking decisive steps to deal with those problems himself.
MARTIN: He has served almost 10 years in an incredibly unstable environment. His brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was assassinated; Hamid Karzai himself has survived at least one assassination attempt. He has his supporters but an awful lot of critics as well. How has he lasted so long?
KHALILZAD: Well, he's lasted for a long time because in part people in Afghanistan generally - even some of the critics - worry about what would happen without him if he was, God forbid, assassinated; that it could lead the country to chaos and disintegration; that he has managed to hold together at least very difficult elements that are part of the non-Taliban Afghan society and political system.
MARTIN: What has been, though, when you think about this man, what has been his most profound impact?
KHALILZAD: I think he was a transitional leader at the time that Afghanistan was transitioning towards a new order that was more democratic, more humane, more inclusive. And I think there has been progress in 2001, 2002. One will have expected a lot more progress than one has seen but the work of building a country as shattered as Afghanistan, it is a work that's not finished. But more and more the responsibility for completing the project will depend on the Afghans themselves.
MARTIN: Former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.