KABUL – The United States is developing a set of benchmarks to ensure that Afghan President Hamid Karzai keeps a promise delivered at his inauguration to fight corruption and inefficiency, U.S. officials said.
Taking the oath of office Thursday, Karzai, whose reputation has been battered by corruption allegations against close associates, pledged to fire any official connected to drug trafficking and “end the culture of impunity and violation of the law.”
To hold him to his word, the Obama administration is instituting a “monitoring and verification” system to judge whether the central government’s ministries and agencies are worthy of receiving direct U.S. aid. If the organizations don’t measure up, they won’t receive any U.S. money, administration officials said.
The Afghan leader also set an implicit timeline for a massive drawdown of the more than 110,000 foreign troops in his country, saying he wanted Afghanistan to be able to handle its own security by the time he leaves office in 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled here for the inauguration, one of hundreds of dignitaries at the swearing-in. Her trip appeared meant both to support and admonish Karzai at a time when the Obama administration is formulating not only its overall war strategy but carefully calibrating its dealings with the sometimes-unpredictable 51-year-old leader.
Clinton praised Karzai’s plans to fight corruption as “visionary” but said attention would now turn to his actions.
“Today’s inauguration opens a real window of opportunity between the Afghan government and its people and for a new chapter in the partnership between Afghanistan and the international community,” she told reporters. But she also emphasized that U.S. officials, like the people of Afghanistan, would “watch very carefully to see how that’s implemented.”
President Barack Obama is nearing a decision on whether to expand the U.S. force in Afghanistan, which now stands at 68,000 troops. As part of a push to make Karzai’s second term cleaner and more effective, U.S. officials are preparing a series of benchmarks to judge progress on upgrading government services, improving security, reducing corruption and training Afghan army and national police units.
U.S. officials will pay particular attention to the use of U.S. aid, which has totaled $40 billion since 2001.
Clinton said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. that American officials monitoring U.S. aid would undertake a “very rigorous analysis of who we can really count on to spend that money the way we intend it to be spent.”
Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged limits on the administration’s leverage, because the United States is pursuing its own security goals in Afghanistan. But he said U.S. officials could deny aid to individual agencies and top officials, and they have leeway to channel it instead to provincial and local governments.