Karzai sets Afghan forces target
Hamid Karzai has been sworn in as Afghan president for a second elected term, saying he wants Afghan forces in charge of the nation within five years. In his inauguration speech, Mr Karzai also addressed the key question of corruption, saying his ministers had to be “competent and just”.
He announced a conference to tackle the issue as well as a national gathering to help bring peace to Afghanistan. He also invited his defeated rivals to join him in working for peace.
Kabul’s streets were almost empty on Thursday as security forces set up numerous roadblocks ahead of the ceremony. The international airport was closed, a holiday was called and people were advised to stay indoors as part of the security lockdown.
Dignitaries from about 40 countries were attending the ceremony, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
Nato extended its “best wishes” to Mr Karzai, and said it supported his intention to form an administration in which “corruption has no place”. “It is critically important that the Afghan people, and the citizens of the countries sending troops to the international mission, see concrete progress in this regard,” Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.
In his speech, Mr Karzai said the strength of Afghan security forces had to be bolstered and the role of international forces reduced. He said: “We hope that the Afghan forces will lead the task of security and stability throughout the country in the coming five years.”
Mr Karzai addressed corruption, saying that good governance came from good management and that he would take care to ensure his ministers were “competent and just”. He said corruption was a “dangerous problem”, adding: “We will soon organise a conference in Kabul to organise new and effective ways to combat this problem.”
He added: “We have to learn from our mistakes and shortcomings of the last eight years.” Mr Karzai also called for a loya jirga – or national gathering – to help bring peace. He invited his main defeated rival Abdullah Abdullah to work with him “for the prosperity of Afghanistan”. Mr Karzai also said he would step up the battle against the production and trafficking of drugs.
Speaking in Kabul on the eve of Thursday’s ceremony, Mrs Clinton said that this was a “critical moment”. “There is now a clear window of opportunity for President Karzai and his government to make a compact with the people of Afghanistan to demonstrate clearly that they’re going to have accountability and tangible results that will improve the lives of the people,” she said.
“We want to be a strong partner with the government and the people of Afghanistan – and I always say both. Because it’s not either or, it has to be both.” The BBC’s Kim Ghattas reports from Kabul that for Washington, Mrs Clinton’s presence at the inauguration is a qualified endorsement of Mr Karzai.
Both US President Barack Obama and Mrs Clinton have made very public statements about the need to fight corruption, and Mrs Clinton has also warned that civilian aid will not continue to flow to Afghanistan unless the issue is addressed.
The Obama administration is currently debating sending more troops to Afghanistan, with the president saying he is “very close” to a decision. Mr Karzai was declared Afghan president after a second round run-off was called off when his sole remaining challenger pulled out, saying the vote could not be free and fair.
Widespread fraud in the 20 August first round led to Mr Karzai being stripped of the outright win he appeared to have secured. Meanwhile, a survey from British aid agency Oxfam has said poverty and unemployment are overwhelmingly seen as the main reasons behind conflict in Afghanistan. Government weakness and corruption were the next most commonly cited reasons, ahead of Taliban violence.