The Obama administration is pressing for better efforts to combat corruption in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday as she flew into the country for an international conference on the war, reconstruction and development.
Clinton landed in Kabul on Monday after two days of talks in neighboring Pakistan where she pushed officials to work more closely with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the fight against extremists.
Afghan officials are expected to present their plans to improve security and implement reforms at Tuesday's conference.
Before landing, Clinton told reporters the Kabul conference "is going to show more Afghan ownership and leadership, which is something we've been pushing."
'We have to do a better job'
Clinton said that she is concerned about reports of the diversion of U.S. aid, but said the problem isn't just with the Afghan government.
"We also have to take our hard look at ourselves because it is very clear our presence, all of our contracting has fed that problem," she said. "This is not just an Afghan problem, it's an international issue. We have to do a better job of trying to more carefully channel and monitor our own aid."
She said the U.S. is "pressing the Afghan government at all levels to be more accountable, to go after corruption," but that the U.S. also had a responsibility to improve management of its programs.
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he wanted the international conference to agree on handing over the responsibility for the country's security to the local authorities by 2014.
He said the gathering's broader "aim is to come up with a perspective for a withdrawal."
Westerwelle also defended the reconciliation approach toward moderate Taliban. "We won't be successful without a political solution that reflects the interests of all political groups," he said.
Germany has some 4,500 troops in the NATO-led ISAF security force in Afghanistan, making it the third-largest troop contributor behind the U.S. and Britain.
The conference will be attended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and delegations from more than 60 nations plus a host of other diplomats and representatives from international organizations.
Earlier, Clinton sought to convince skeptical Pakistanis that American interest in their country extends beyond the fight against Islamist militants by announcing a raft of new aid projects worth $500 million.
The projects, which included new dams for badly needed electricity and hospitals, are part of a $7.5 billion aid effort to win over Pakistanis suspicious about Washington's goals here and in neighboring Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are being killed in ever greater numbers in an insurgency with links to Pakistan.
Mistrust over U.S. intentions in Pakistan is in part due to Washington's decision to turn away from the nuclear-armed country after enlisting its support to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
"Of course there is a legacy of suspicion that we inherited. It is not going to be eliminated overnight," said Clinton following talks in Islamabad.
"It is however our goal to slowly but surely demonstrate that the United States is concerned about Pakistan for the long term and that our partnership goes far beyond security against our common enemies," she said. "We have moved beyond a standoff of our misunderstandings that were allowed to fester and not addressed ... to a position where we're engaged in the most open dialogue that I think our two countries have ever had."
Clinton said the U.S. will complete two hydroelectric dam projects to supply electricity to more than 300,000 people in areas near the Afghan border, will renovate or build three medical facilities in central and southern Pakistan and will embark on a new initiative to improve access to clean drinking water in the country.
These projects and several others focused on promoting economic growth will cost some $500 million and will be funded by legislation approved by Congress to triple nonmilitary aid to $1.5 billion a year over five years. The initiatives mark the second phase of projects begun under a new and enhanced strategic partnership.
Despite these initiatives, Clinton faces challenges in appealing for greater Pakistani cooperation in cracking down on militants who use their sanctuaries in Pakistan to launch cross-border attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target Afghan Taliban militants in the country with whom it has historical ties because they could be useful allies in Afghanistan after international forces withdraw.
Pakistan has shown more interest in supporting Afghanistan's push to reconcile with Afghan Taliban rather than fight them, a tactic that the U.S. believes has little chance of succeeding until the militants' momentum on the battlefield is reversed.
The U.S. has pushed Pakistan and Afghanistan to improve their often frosty relations and prodded the two countries to seal a landmark trade deal Sunday that was reached after years of negotiation. The pact, which eases restrictions on cross-border transportation, must be ratified by the Afghan parliament and Pakistani Cabinet.
U.S. officials said they believe it will significantly enhance ties between the two countries, boost development and incomes on both sides of the border and contribute to the fight against extremists.