Karzai: One term is enough
Fortune Exclusive: The first democratically elected Afghan president suggests he won't run again -- and gives a frank assessment of his first five years on the job.
KABUL, Afghanistan (Fortune International) -- Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has strongly suggested he will serve just one term as Afghan leader and not contest his country's next presidential election scheduled for 2009. In an exclusive interview with Fortune, the 49-year-old Karzai said, "I don't think it is good to be running all the time. Let other people get a chance to run."
Karzai, who became his country's first democratically elected president in December 2004, added: "I want to leave a good legacy for Afghanistan. I want to have this country stable and constitutionally strong. I want to have this country left with a stable environment of alternative leaders."
While the election is still three years away, Karzai's remarks raise significant questions for his desperately poor country and for the international community that props it up - questions of who might replace him, how as much as $20 billion in foreign aid is dispersed, and what impact a lame-duck presidency might have on a government engaged in a battle with a resurgent Taliban in its restive southern provinces.
Karzai became Afghanistan's leader in December 2001, when he was appointed chairman, and later president, of a Washington-backed transitional administration formed after U.S. forces toppled the Taliban two months after the World Trade Center bombing in 2001.
In a frank discussion held in his office in Kabul's presidential palace on July 31, Karzai made a series of revelatory comments and claims.
"There is corruption in the whole system" of Afghanistan's government and that citizens were increasingly angry at the waste and profligate spending by foreign aid organizations.
His government controls "the whole country," despite a growing Taliban insurgency in six southern provinces, and that Afghanistan is mostly secure.
He had underestimated the task of eradicating opium poppy production, which now comprises a third of the Afghan economy, and admitted that "lots of people" in his administration benefited financially from poppy production.
The international community had weakened his government by rewarding regional pro-U.S. warlords for their role in the Taliban's ouster, though he insisted there were no warlords in his cabinet or administration.
His government had been successful and ahead of his targets, in boosting the economy and raising income and living standards in Afghanistan. But domestic revenue collection was "absolutely shameful" and was hindering self-sustaining economic development.
Asked why he isn't a stronger leader, given his near unanimous support internationally, Karzai said, "The international community did not stand with me on these issues. They didn't four years ago, when I asked them to. I had to work through internal and external factors and take Afghanistan to where we are today. And I am very proud of that. [But] the international community could have helped us better."
Karzai said that Afghanistan's economy was booming and that legal per capita income had doubled to $355 annually since he came to office.
But, he added, "We are still among the poorest in the world. While we have better roads, we are still the worst in the world. While we have improved our supply of electricity, we are still the worst in the world.
While our education has picked up a lot, we are among the worst. We still have the lowest literacy rates in the world. We are still the worst in child mortality. If you asked me, has the country succeeded in terms of economic recovery, [I would say] yes, massively. But is Afghanistan a rich place? No."
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