U.S. officials fear Karzai can’t keep anti-corruption pledge


KABUL — President Hamid Karzai vowed Tuesday that he would
clean up his government in his second five-year term, but U.S. officials are
worried that the Afghan leader will have to award key posts to ethnic warlords
and regional power barons who are linked to drug trafficking in exchange for
their help in his re-election.

The U.S. concerns were heightened by the return from Turkey
late Monday of Abdul Rashid Dostum, a notorious former communist general and a
leader of the ethnic Uzbek minority who’s alleged to have allowed the 2001
killing of as many as 2,000 Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners, then having their
mass graves dug up and their remains hidden in 2008.

Dostum, who left for Turkey a year ago after allegedly
beating a political rival and his family, last visited Kabul four days before
the Aug. 20 presidential election as part of an alleged deal to deliver the
votes of his large following to Karzai. Dostum, however, quickly left again for
Turkey after the U.S. complained.

U.S. officials were concerned that Dostum’s return late
Monday — the same day that President Barack Obama pressed Karzai in a telephone
call congratulating him on his re-election to crack down on high-level
corruption — was a prelude to his appointment to the Afghan leader’s new

“Dostum came back to cash in” said a U.S. defense
official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak

But Karzai insisted, in his first news conference since he
was certified on Monday as the winner of the election, that he’d move
forcefully to eliminate corruption in his new administration.

“We have been tarnished with corruption, and we will
continue to make every possible effort to wipe off this stain,” Karzai

The Obama administration has identified corruption in the
Karzai administration as a key problem undermining the eight-year-old war effort
against the Taliban. Karzai has had uneasy relations with the administration,
however, particularly as the Afghan president’s campaign was accused of
widespread voter fraud.

Many U.S. officials, Western diplomats and other experts
fear that Karzai will award positions in the central and provincial governments
to unsavory figures, including regional militia leaders and power brokers who
oversaw the massive ballot box-stuffing on his behalf.

“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 Karzai’s new
government, Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, stood next to the president at the
news conference. Fahim, the first vice president-elect, has been accused of war
crimes and dogged by allegations that he’s tied to the drug trade.

Karzai “is too beholden to these types and he doesn’t
see it yet in his interest to remove them and start a clean government and be a
genuine partner with the international community,” said Rachel Reid, who
monitors Afghanistan for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.

“The next few days, weeks and months are almost more
important than the election itself as we see who Karzai appoints to his new
government,” she said. “This will send the signal of whether we see a
new kind of governing, a more credible form of governing, or whether
Afghanistan will continue to spiral into further corruption and

“It’s not enough to blame Karzai,” Reid continued.
“The U.S. and other major players in Afghanistan are complicit in this
impunity culture. They have relationships with many of the most notorious
former warlords, current criminals and militia leaders. They have high-level
meetings with them, they use their armed gangs to guard their bases, they
invite them to the White House. They, too, must clean up their act, or they
don’t have a leg to stand on when they come to tell Karzai to change his


Other figures of concern who provided critical support for
Karzai’s re-election include former Helmand province governor Sher Mohammad
Akhundzada, who was found with 9 tons of drugs in 2005; Assadullah Khalid, a
former governor of Kandahar province; and parliamentarian Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a
former anti-Soviet guerrilla leader and hard-line Islamist linked to Osama bin
Laden who’s accused of war crimes and land theft.

Karzai also received considerable help from his brother,
Ahmed Wali Karzai, the main power in Kandahar, who’s allegedly involved in drug
trafficking and other abuses, but also reportedly receives payments from the
CIA. He denies the allegations.

The U.S. defense official said there are concerns that
Karzai may find himself in deep political trouble because he may be unable to
keep all of the power-sharing promises he made to unsavory figures in return
for votes.

“He can’t deliver all the jobs he promised,” the
U.S. defense official said.

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 said he wanted to form “a government of unity, a
government for all Afghan people,” but he gave no specifics as to whom he
might include or whether he’d back any of the changes that 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 have sought this week to generate a propaganda
victory from the decision to scuttle the runoff and declare Karzai the winner.

“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.

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.