Inauguration Day in Afghanistan: Karzai Promises to Improve on Corruption

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was sworn in on Thursday for his second term in office with a number of Western diplomats in attendance. Under intense pressure from the West, he promised to step up the fight against rampant corruption in his country. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who was in Kabul for the ceremony, said that now is the time for action.

The visits, like all high-level trips to Afghanistan these days, were officially kept secret. But few were surprised this week when top diplomats from all over the world descended on Kabul to participate in Thursday's swearing-in ceremony for President Hamid Karzai's second term in office.

In addition to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived on Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle flew in on Thursday for the oath, which took place at 8:00 a.m. CET. They joined some 800 other invited guests including French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

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Photo Gallery: Karzai's Inauguration
For Westerwelle, it was the first real test in his new position. On the one hand, he -- like his Western colleagues -- was there as a show of support for Afghanistan and for Karzai as he begins a second term overshadowed by massive election-day irregularities. On the other hand, the international community's prominent showing on Thursday was yet another attempt to up the pressure on Karzai to finally do something about rampant corruption in his country.

'Core Priorities'

Shortly after his arrival, Westerwelle said: "President Karzai is faced with a large task and high expectations, not just from his own people but also from the international community of nations." Prior to his face-to-face meeting with Karzai, Westerwelle said he would urge him to improve governance and said that the fight against corruption must be one of the new Afghan government's "core priorities."

Speaking on Wednesday, Clinton told reporters that, while Karzai had begun to tackle corruption, it was "not nearly enough." Her comments gained credence when news broke on Wednesday of an up to $30 million bribe paid to a member of Karzai's cabinet to grease the wheels for a copper-mining contract. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Muhammad Ibrahim Adel, Afghanistan's minister of mines, accepted the money not long after the China Metallurgical Group Corp. was awarded a $3 billion mining contract in 2007. The Associated Press reported the bribe was worth $20 million.

Even more galling for the West is the fact that one of Karzai's two vice presidents is the feared former warlord Mohammad Qasim Fahim, known to Afghans simply as "Marshall Fahim." Fahim isn't just considered to be corrupt, but is also thought to head up the country's lucrative kidnapping industry. Karzai chose Fahim for the votes he brought with him.

Westerwelle also emphasized Berlin's goal of coming up with an eventual timeline for the withdrawal of Germany's 4,300 troops stationed in Afghanistan. "In the next four years, we have to help develop a self-sufficient security force in Afghanistan to such a degree that a transfer of responsibility can take place," Westerwelle said. "We don't want to stay in Afghanistan for ... forever and a day."

In his inauguration speech, Karzai promised to pursue an energetic fight against corruption and the drug trade. "Corruption is a dangerous problem," he said. It is a promise he has made many times before, but with the West now threatening to withdraw its support should progress not be made, the stakes this time seem higher. Following the address, Westerwelle said it was "a speech with the correct focus and it met our expectations." He added: "We will take President Karzai at his word and ensure that he, having said the right thing, will now do the right thing."

High Security

One day prior to Karzai's inauguration, Afghan Attorney General Mohammed Ishaq Aloko announced that his office had prepared corruption indictments against five high-ranking politicians, including two current and three former cabinet ministers. "The president only has to grant his approval, then the trials can proceed," Aloko told SPIEGEL ONLINE in Kabul.

Also this week, NATO announced that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) would henceforth be forwarding evidence of corruption on to Afghan authorities, including some information gathered by Western intelligence service agents. "The new guidance directs forces to share that information through normal reporting channels to the government of Afghanistan and proper law enforcement agencies that can take action," NATO said in a statement e-mailed to SPIEGEL ONLINE. "During the course of normal framework operations, ISAF forces often uncover evidence or information regarding corrupt officials or malign actors," NATO wrote.

Security was extremely high in Kabul for the inauguration, with civilians urged to stay indoors -- despite Karzai having declared the day a national holiday -- and normally scheduled flights to and from Kabul cancelled. Only a single, state-controlled television station was allowed inside the presidential palace for the ceremony. All other journalists were sequestered in a media center across town.

With reporting by Matthias Gebauer
cgh -- with wire reports

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