Karzai promises to quash corruption, but doesn't say how

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 3, 2009 

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that he'd work to curb corruption in his next five years in office, but he gave no specifics about how that would be accomplished or which Cabinet members might be fired to clean up his administration.

"We have been tarnished with corruption, and we will continue to make every possible effort to wipe off this stain," Karzai said at his first news conference since he was certified Monday as the winner of the 2009 presidential election.

The Obama administration has identified corruption in the Karzai administration as a key issue that's weakening the eight-year-old war effort against the Taliban. Karzai has had uneasy relations with the Obama administration, however, particularly as the Afghan president's campaign was accused of being involved in widespread voter fraud in recent months.

There are still plenty of doubts among Afghans and Western diplomats about Karzai's willingness to remove key political allies who may have been involved in graft or other misconduct.

"I think the corruption and the failures in the system and the government cannot only be fixed through removal," Karzai said Tuesday. "There are rules and there are regulations and there are laws that need to be reformed."

One of the most controversial members of the Karzai government, Marshal Mohammad Fahim, was standing next to the president at the news conference. Fahim, the vice president, has been accused of war crimes and dogged by allegations that he's tied to the drug trade.

Karzai claimed a new term after his challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of a runoff election this Saturday over concerns that voter fraud also would mar the second round.

Karzai has never admitted that his campaign was involved in fraudulent activities during the first round Aug. 20, and he referred to those allegations again Tuesday as "defamation and disrespect."

He praised Abdullah as a strong candidate "whose campaigning was much better than mine," and said he wanted to form "a government of unity, a government for all Afghan people." However, he gave no specifics as to whom he might include or whether he'd back any of the reforms Abdullah sought, such as electing, rather than appointing, provincial governors.

Karzai also said he'd reach out to the Taliban and try to get them to renounce violence, but again he offered no specifics on how that might be done.

The Taliban-led insurgency has rebounded strongly in recent years and has made disrupting the elections a key element of its recent violence. Last Wednesday, the Taliban attacked a private guesthouse where United Nations elections workers were staying, killing five U.N. workers and wounding nine.

The Taliban sought this week to generate a propaganda victory from the decision to scuttle the runoff and declare Karzai the victory.

"The cancellation of the runoff election shows that all decisions are made in Washington and London but announced in Afghanistan," said a statement released by the Taliban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The statement chided the "air and ground forces" that couldn't stop the attack at the guesthouse.

The U.N. is reassessing security at some 90 private guesthouses that it had certified as safe enough for its workers. One option under consideration is concentrating workers in fewer, more fortified compounds.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Kabul on Monday, has asked the General Assembly for an additional $75 million to help improve security for workers in Afghanistan, and also has requested more assistance from the Afghan government.

(Bernton reports for The Seattle Times.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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