Karzai vows to fight corruption after re-election as Afghan leader

No role for Abdullah Abdullah as president says he will clean up government, while people view election result with suspicion

Hamid Karzai vowed to tackle corruption in his government and reach out to his political opponents today, but gave no commitments to specific action in his first speech since being re-appointed as president of Afghanistan.

Speaking at the presidential palace in Kabul, Karzai echoed the commitments that his western backers had pushed him to accept, including appointing a clean government and making progress in peace negotiations with the Taliban.

He said his government would be one of national unity and hoped that "no one feels themselves isolated from this future government". But he did not offer a place in the government to his main opponent in the elections, Abdullah Abdullah, and he pointedly avoided commenting on any role for his rival.

Karzai said high-level graft had "tainted" the image of his government. "We will strive, by any means possible, to eradicate this stain," he said.

Western diplomats hope that his dubious political mandate will oblige Karzai to "earn legitimacy" by delivering services to his people and cracking down on high-level corruption, thought to be fuelling support for the Taliban.

But questions remain whether he will be capable of delivering what the foreign powers demand, particularly as he struck deals during the election campaign with a number of unsavoury powerbrokers, who will expect to be rewarded by the new government.

Highlighting the potential problems, he made his commitment to reform whilst flanked by his two vice-presidents, including Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a notorious former warlord who Karzai selected as a running mate, despite strong opposition from the international community.

Barack Obama yesterday moved to bolster Karzai's position, saying that although the process had been "messy", the "results were in accordance with and followed the rules late down by the Afghan constitution".

But many Afghan leaders say that is a questionable assertion as Karzai did not receive more than 50% of votes, which the Afghan constitution says the president must have.

Observers believe the disastrous election is likely to do lasting damage to western efforts to stabilise the country.

Interventions by western powers – first to force Karzai to accept the need for a second round, and then for it to be abandoned – have bred popular cynicism about a democratic process many Afghans now believe is controlled by foreigners.

The Taliban have been exploiting the debacle, by mocking the process and sowing fear that they would disrupt the second round through violence.

In a statement today, the movement claimed it had succeeded in its bid to block the run-off.

"The cancellation of the second round of the election showed that decisions on Afghanistan are made in Washington and London, while the announcements are made in Kabul," the statement said.

"What is astonishing is two weeks ago they were arguing that the puppet president Hamid Karzai was involved in electoral fraud … but now he is elected as president based on those same fraudulent votes, Washington and London immediately send their congratulations."


Jon Boone in Kabul

The GuardianTramp

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