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U.S. to Karzai: Don't Blow Inauguration

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures to journalists as he heads to receive U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, unseen, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 2, 2009.
AP Photo/Ahmad Masoud
The United States and its allies want Afghan President Hamid Karzai to use Thursday's inauguration speech to announce concrete steps to fight corruption and govern better, U.S. and Western officials said.

Karzai will be sworn in for a second term at a ceremony attended by international dignitaries looking for signs of Karzai's commitment. His disputed election victory last August was tarnished by widespread vote rigging.

"The international community will be paying very close attention to that speech but what is more important is what Karzai does afterward,'' said a senior U.S. official.

A European diplomat said several nations had given Karzai a "shopping list" of what he needed to do including reaching out to his political enemies and combating corruption. They hoped he would refer to those items in his speech.

"We would like some sort of roadmap. We want some clear direction given here,'' said the diplomat, who spoke on condition he was not named since the matter is sensitive.

Since Karzai was declared winner of the fraud-plagued election, he has been told repeatedly he needs to keep his promise of establishing clean government if he wants to retain support from countries like the United States and Britain where support for the war is waning.

"They will all be emphasizing the fragile nature of their own domestic public opinions and the difficulties they will have supporting Afghanistan on a continuous basis unless their own publics see improvements there," said James Dobbins, a former U.S. ambassador, now with Rand Corporation.

An ABC/Washington Post poll released Tuesday found that 52 percent of Americans did not believe the war in Afghanistan was worth the cost.

President Barack Obama is preparing to announce, perhaps next week, a new strategy for the eight-year war, including sending up to 40,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Obama has made clear the United States needs to partner with a legitimate Afghan government for the plan to work. His own ambassador in Kabul has expressed reservations about sending more troops if Karzai's performance does not improve.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday Afghanistan could only count on more civilian aid if its ministries were ``certified'' and could be held accountable for the money.

"We're going to be doing what we can to create an atmosphere in which the blood and treasure that the United States has committed to Afghanistan can be justified," Clinton said.

Early Encouragement

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown named five areas Karzai must work on: the transfer of security responsibility to Afghans, good governance and actions against corruption, reconciliation, economic development and better relations with neighbors, said a British official in Washington.

"We are looking towards the Afghan government to work on this. It is about a commitment between the president and his people," said the official.

Obama administration officials said they were encouraged by steps announced by Karzai so far, including the creation of a major crimes task force and an anti-corruption unit.

"But a lot will depend on the implementation,'' said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.

An early focus will be on who Karzai appoints to his cabinet and whether he fills ministries with cronies deemed as corrupt by the West.

Afghanistan analyst Alexander Thier, who has just returned from a trip to Kabul, said the United States and others must make clear to Karzai there would be serious consequences if he did not follow through on public commitments.

For example, ministries which did not perform could have funding for specific programs blocked and individuals accused of being corrupt could have their assets frozen abroad.

"We can press for their arrest and prosecution. There are a lot of tools we can use to penalize them,'' said Thier of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

The United States itself should stop dealing with corrupt officials and deal with allegations that Karzai's brother, suspected of being a drug kingpin, is on the CIA payroll.

"We cannot simply demand of Karzai a change of his style, We need to make it too," said Thier.