Hamid Karzai in Kandahar prior to his
assassination attempt. (AP)
Initially, I thought he was alive. The more
time passes and we do not hear from him, the
perception that he could be dead gets stronger.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai
on whether Osama bin Laden is dead or alive
(CBS) Afghan President
Hamid Karzai met in New York with CBS News
Anchor Dan Rather for an interview on dodging
assassination attempts, religious wars, and Osama bin
It was just over a week ago that Karzai narrowly escaped
when an Afghan body guard supposedly protecting the
Governor of Kandahar suddenly turned into an assassin.
Moments after the attack, U.S. special forces protecting
the president blew the shooter away.
Hamid Karzai: The assassination on me was
certainly the work of the Taliban. We have no doubt about
Rather: Is it your opinion, or not, that Osama bin
Laden is dead?
Karzai: Initially, I thought he was alive. The
more time passes and we do not hear from him, the
perception that he could be dead gets stronger.
Rather: But of the elusive leader of the Taliban,
there was no uncertainty whatsoever.
Karzai: Mullah Mohamed Omar is alive. He's a
harder target because nobody recognizes him. If I came
across him tomorrow in Washington City walking down
Michigan Avenue, I wouldn't recognize him.
I also asked the president about what we at CBS News
are hearing, that there is increased resentment of the
American troops as an occupying army. Afghans, after all,
have never tolerated foreign troops on their soil.
Karzai: The general population is overwhelmingly
for the continuation of the U.S. troops because it has
brought liberation to the country. Part of my security is
American, they mingle perfectly well with the population.
Rather: Which obviously came in handy with this
latest assassination attempt. But is this not a problem
for you? Someone who knows Afghanistan, loves Afghanistan
said, "Nothing speaks 'puppet' more than being
guarded by U.S. bodyguards." Do you agree with that?
Karzai: No, I don't agree with that. Let me tell
you when I received the offer from the United States to
accept American security personnel, I rejected it and
they kept coming for ten days to say "Hamid! We
think you should have our people, they're better
equipped, they're better trained." I said no,
probably the Afghans won't like it. But when people came
to know the Americans were offering and we were not
accepting it they came to me and said, "You are mad!
You should accept it straight away, it's good for us".
Rather: What's your biggest worry in terms of
Afghanistan going on and realizing your dreams for it?
Karzai: I have no other worry in Afghanistan
itself. I am worried about the neighborhood of
[The part that is
missing on Lexis-Nexis starts here]
Rather: To the East, the
military dictatorship of Pakistan where the remnants of
al Qaeda are believed to be hiding out. Just to the
north, disputed Kashmir, possible site of a nuclear
conflict between India and Pakistan. But one neighbor
with whom Karzai feels surprisingly comfortable is its
neighbor to the west, the fundamentalist theocracy of
Karzai: I've had a good experience with Iran.
Rather: For many Americans this is confusing, because
President Bush has described Iran as a part of the quote
'Axis of Evil'.
Karzai: Well, we have made of very clear to our neighbors
that regardless of what sort of relations they have with
the United States of America, that the United States has
helped Afghanistan twice -- when the Soviets invaded and
now, too, the fight against terrorism has been won with
the help of the United States.
Rather: You have no problems with Iran?
Karzai: I have no problems with them, no.
[The part that is missing on
Lexis-Nexis ends here]
Rather: Mr. President, lets
talk about Iraq, as we sit here it seems inevitable that
there's gonna be a new war with Iraq. You know the
widespread theory that it's going to inflame the world of
Islam and that there will be, in the American phrase
"hell to pay."
Karzai: When we were beginning the operation against the
Taliban, that's what was said by some people -- that the
Muslims would be enraged, that Afghans would be enraged.
But it was the opposite of that. If the people of Iraq
are victims, if they are going through as difficult a
life as the Afghans were going through. If there is a
desire for them to have a better life, they deserve to
have that and there will be support for that.
Rather: There's talk now of a war between
civilizations, a religious war if you will, Islam against
Christianity and Judaism. Do you see it in those terms?
Karzai: Absolutely not. I definitely don't see it
in those terms Mr. Rather. There are issues of religion,
issues of culture that of course at times clash with each
other, but with regard to terrorist attack in New York,
the common Muslim man condemns it like hell. I am a
Muslim myself and a believing one and I pray 5 times a
day, and I am grateful to the United States and the rest
of the world for having helped Afghanistan free itself.
Rather: You've survived a long time against the
odds, what are the chances that this will be the last
time you and I meet?
Karzai: Well, God is our keeper, and as long as he
wishes me alive, I will stay alive and when he decides I
will go away and that's it.
By the way, various U.S. officials have expressed concern
that Afghanistan's stability might be threatened by its
western neighbor: Iran. Karzai told me, quite strongly,
he has no such worries.