Video: Karzai vows to tackle corruption

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    >>> afghan president hamid karzai promising to crack down on corruption in his government. he's trying to regain the faith of the bomb administration and erase allegations tying him to drug traffickers , bribes to taliban leaders to take the money to buy guns to shoot at american soldiers . richard engle is our chief foreign affairs correspondent. what is the message on the ground to afghan civilians of the reinstatement, re-election of this man and his reinstatement, re-election alongside the secretary of state of the united states ? how is that playing on the ground?

    >> reporter: the secretary of state of the united states just left, by the way, hillary clinton is wheels up on her way back to washington . we were with afghans today as they were listening to president karzai 's inauguration speech. i must say there was optimism. he said he would crack down on corruption, he would find anyone who was tied to the drug trade and fire them from his government. but many afghans say why hasn't he done this up until now and corruption is really present at every single level. not just in the most senior ranks of the government ministers or allies of president karzai but even on the official level when you try and get stamps to register your business, when you try and conduct the day-to-day affairs on the government, bribes from police. it has become something that afghans are frustrated with on a daily basis.

    >> let's go through some of these real quick. his vice president accused of drug trafficking , not a relation but close colleague. general dostum accused of being a functioning war lord . ahmed popal, his cuousin and runs a trucking company. and finally karzai 's brother who has been linked to the heroin trade . joining us as well in this conversation is christine fair from washington , assistant professor georgetown university , political office of the united nations , knows of what she speaks. what message does it send to the world and to the afghany population that the u.s. secretary of state is there on the day that this man that i just described as basically given the support of the american government to the point where our highest level diplomatic official is there for the inauguration.

    >> well, of course the problem is there's really no one else to work with other than karzai . having a government that enjoys some degree of credibility and the support of the population is going to be key to any sort of counter insurgency strategy that this administration tries to put forward. i also think that there is an effort to strike a different deal with karzai . the sort of unferted support that they received from the bush administration is not going to be forthcoming from this administration unless he cleans up his act. there's no other way than to work with karzai and try to get this government to be somewhat functional.

    >> on the one hand you say you're not going to get the unfetterred support you got under the bush administration and at the exact same moment you say quite honestly we have no choice but to support this man no matter how corrupt he may be.

    >> i think that we have opportunities to try to leverage our assistance by demanding -- by insisting upon more accountability. there might be some interest in trying to veto appointments of cabinet members that are particularly dubious or trying to get institutions like the independent director of local governance, which is basically been supported bilateral aid programs, to actually do what it is intended to do, which is put quality governors in at the provincial and district level.

    >> richard engle, in the time that you've covered this war and you've seen a million and one corruption conversations, i am sure, have you seen any variance or change or diminishment ever in the level of functioning corruption in the way that country operates itself no matter what pressure or leverage or concept or rhetoric is coming from anybody?

    >> reporter: i have not. what we have seen on the ground is a lot of talk coming mostly from washington , d.c., but very little leverage on the ground. still, there is billions of dollars of aid being channeled through this country. very, very little accountability. it's not just corruption stealing money. you mentioned general dostum , for example. it's also affecting the whole peace and security in this country. today president karzai in his pea speech, one of the first points he made he wants to hold a national assembly and dialogue and he called on the taliban to put down their arms and join the ranks of the government. general dostum , however, who is widely suspected to join the government is a war lord who's been accused of killing about 2,000 taliban prisoners in a particularly brutal way, locking them in metal containers, leaving the containers in the sun and allowing the taliban militants inside to suffocate to death. so by including these people, you go against the entire political message which is one to try and stop the war if you listen to karzai 's speech today.

    >> richard , thank you, as always, for your reporting. christine, thanks for the analysis.

updated 11/19/2009 2:00:00 PM ET 2009-11-19T19:00:00

The Obama administration has a simple-sounding strategy for the problem that is Hamid Karzai: Work with the Afghan leader and around him at the same time.

As President Barack Obama nears an announcement about whether the United States will add military forces to an unpopular war, he cannot avoid dealing with the corruption-stained Afghan leader and the culture of graft and inefficiency that years of U.S. and international largesse has helped to build.

But Washington is also looking for ways to direct aid, expertise and influence to local and provincial governments far from Karzai's compound in Kabul. The U.S. troop infusion widely expected for next year will also largely bypass Karzai, who wants more troops but will not get much say in where they go or how they are used.

"He has some strengths, but he has some weaknesses," Obama said Wednesday.

Never a favorite among Obama insiders, Karzai took office for a second five-year term on Thursday as Washington's inevitable man, instead of the indispensable man he was to former President George W. Bush.

Obama praised Karzai for holding his government together but declined to say he trusts him.

Concern for basic services
"I'm less concerned about any individual than I am with a government as a whole that is having difficulty providing basic services to its people," Obama said in his latest blunt assessment of the Karzai government. Obama made his comments during his trip to Asia in interviews with NBC, CNN and CBS.

The Karzai government's competence and ability to shed at least some of its taint of corruption are critical to whether there will be any credible Afghan civilian support for the growing U.S. war effort, now in its ninth year.

Senior administration officials say they are applying the tough love that Bush did not. For starters, Washington is asking Karzai not to embarrass his patrons by keeping obvious thugs on the payroll.

U.S. officials say they are already diverting some development money and decision-making power away from Kabul ministries, taking advantage of Afghanistan's historically decentralized power system to give local leaders more direct control over projects in their backyards. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Obama's announcement about a revamped Afghanistan strategy is still under wraps.

The United States would prefer to see honest politicians at the helm of key government ministries such as Interior, Intelligence and Defense and the sketchier Karzai loyalists shunted off to places where they could do the least harm.

Purging cronies
Washington has sent word that a few Karzai cronies must go and that he should not toss out ministers who have demonstrated their independence.

One failed critical test, so far, is that Karzai has refused to push aside a half brother long alleged to have links to the drug trade.

Video: Obama within weeks of announcing troop decision "The U.S. strategy cannot be dependent on Karzai," said Alex Thier, an Afghanistan specialist at the U.S. Institute of Peace. "It could not be dependent on him when he was the good guy and it cannot be dependent on him now that he is perceived as the bad guy."

Thier, just back from meeting with U.S and Afghan officials in Afghanistan, said the administration has begun to make good on pledges to cultivate responsible leaders apart from Karzai.

The Karzai government unveiled an anti-corruption and major crimes unit this week just as Afghanistan slipped three places to become the world's second most-corrupt country, according to an annual survey by Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog.

"They've done some work on that, but in our view, not nearly enough to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose to tackle corruption," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters Wednesday during her flight to Kabul for Karzai's inauguration.

"We are concerned about corruption and we obviously think it has an impact on the quality and capacity of governing. So we're going to be persistent, asking for the kinds of outcomes that we think reflect that they are serious about this. But I can't predict what will or won't happen at this point."

Clinton's presence lends a carefully calibrated blessing to Karzai's second term, which came after one deeply flawed election and one Karzai claimed by default.

Some other nations sent heads of state, but there was never much chance that Obama himself would make the trip.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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