Karzai: Islamic State is not in Afghanistan

Reporting by Martin Soong | Writing by John Phillips
Ex-Afghan President: Resolve Yemen through talks
Ex-Afghan President: Resolve Yemen through talks

The Islamic State does not have a presence in Afghanistan because it lacks the necessary support, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai told CNBC.

"As far as ISIS is concerned in Afghanistan, so far it's only a slogan," Karzai told Martin Soong on 'The CNBC Conversation'. "[There's] a lot of media hype in Afghanistan, [but] there is no physical evidence of them per se."

But that doesn't mean the Islamic State won't make its way into Afghanistan.

"You'll see that one day a white flag of the Taliban is turned into the black flag of ISIS. The individuals may remain the same, but the change of name is something that can occur easily," the former president said.

However, for that change to occur the Islamic State would require a support base.

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"ISIS as an organization the way they were in Iraq, the way they were in Syria, is not going to have an impactful body without an organized element of support behind them," he said. "Without that they will not be [in Afghanistan]. With that support they may find a place there."

Where the Islamic State's current backing comes from remains unclear, but Karzai said it's "definitely not Iran, because Iran is fighting [ISIS]".

The war on terror

Conflict can only be settled through negotiations as militaristic means rarely yield a solution, Karzai said referring to the war on terror and ongoing conflict in Yemen.

"We have an example in Afghanistan," he said. "We've been engaged in a [military] campaign – some in the West call it a war on terrorism – for so many years, but eventually it is going to take negotiations to bring about a settlement, and that's what I'm hoping for in Yemen [too]".

Prakash Singh | AFP | Getty Images

A change in policies is the key to overcoming terrorism, he said, not military campaigns.

"The rise of the so called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is the direct result of events in Iraq. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, the collapse of the regime there, and then the anarchy that followed [and] the sectarian violence – it's directly the result of that."

"I believe very strongly that…there has to be a change in policies," he said. "The U.S. and its Western allies must bring about a change in their approach to fighting extremism [and] terrorism."

U.S. troops in Afghanistan

Karzai disagrees with U.S.President Barack Obama's decision on Tuesday to slow the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

The current complement of 9,800 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2015, according to a statement from the White House. The original plan was to reduce the number to around 5,500 by year-end.

"The U.S. was in Afghanistan for 13 years to fight the Taliban and to fight Al Qaeda and to fight radicalism. And today we have exactly the same fight going on as we did 13 years ago," he said. "The war on terror has failed to bring an end to terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

"One hundred and fifty thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan did not defeat [the terrorists], so how can 10,000 defeat them?" he said.

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It's not the presence of troops that will make a difference, Karzai said, "there has to be a change in policies."

Not against US relations

While Karzai doesn't agree with the U.S.'s approach to fighting terrorism, he does value Afghanistan's relationship with the country.

"I am not against relations with the U.S. I very much want a very deep, very strong, very strategic relationship with the U.S. But I don't believe that the presence of the U.S. military in Afghanistan is going to help the country or the war on terror the way it has been dealt with so far," he said.

A difference in values was at the heart of Karzai's long-standing refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement with the U.S., he said – a decision that soured ties between the countries.

Karzai: Pakistan must 'change their approach to life'
Karzai: Pakistan must 'change their approach to life'

"I began to feel that there was a fundamental difference in values [between Afghanistan and the U.S.]. I felt that the war on terror that the U.S. had come to Afghanistan to fight… was not conducted the way it should have been," he said.

"The talk was in one direction, but the walk was in another direction. The talk was towards Pakistan and sanctuaries in Pakistan, but the action was taking place in Afghanistan against Afghan civilians," he added.

Mental health

Karzai dismissed claims by U.S. officials and intelligence sources that he is under treatment for a bipolar condition because he is a manic-depressive.

"They were wrong," Karzai said.

"This is an example of how propaganda was conducted… to tarnish my image and weaken me and throw me into insignificance," he said. "But it had the reverse effect in Afghanistan. The more I was attacked, the more I found a place with the Afghan people."

Political comeback?

The former Afghan president has ruled out the possibility of a political comeback.

"I've done my time," he said. "It would be a failure on my part and on the part of Afghanistan if I were to return."

"We must have a new generation of Afghans. We must have new presidents [and] continuity of the political process of our constitution rather than stagnation," he said.

"My return… would be stagnation, and that's not good for Afghanistan."