KABUL, Afghanistan – Seeking to smooth over a key point of contention in advance of President Hamid Karzai’s inauguration this week, senior Afghan officials Monday unveiled what they described as tough new anti-corruption measures.
With the Afghan leader poised to be sworn in Thursday for a second five-year term, the West has been putting pressure on Karzai to institute swift reforms or face a loss of international support. Recent days have brought criticism from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, both of whom suggested that future aid to Karzai’s government could be tied to his efforts to move decisively against corruption.
In apparent response to the growing international pressure, Afghanistan’s chief justice, interior minister, justice minister, security chief and attorney general appeared at a joint news conference to announce the launch of a major-crime task force and a new anti-corruption unit.
The ambassadors to Britain and the United States also attended the briefing, in what appeared to be a gesture aimed at demonstrating solidarity in the anti-corruption fight but also providing an implicit warning to the Karzai camp of the consequences of failure to act.
Karzai’s inauguration coincides with debate within the Obama administration over war strategy in Afghanistan, including whether to send in tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops. Rather than providing a hoped-for mandate for the next Afghan government, the election exacerbated simmering anger over the pervasive reach of corruption in public life, extending from the village to the national level. Bribes are routinely extorted for everything from fixing traffic tickets to awarding lucrative contracts.
Results of the first round of presidential voting, held Aug. 20, initially handed Karzai an outright victory, but a fraud-investigating commission subsequently invalidated nearly a million votes cast for the Afghan leader and said a second round of voting would be needed to settle the contest. A runoff with Karzai’s chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, was canceled when Abdullah dropped out, suggesting he did not believe the vote would be fair.