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Karzai sworn in as Afghan president
Published on 19 Nov. 2009 11:55 PM IST
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai was sworn in for a second term on Thursday, vowing to combat corruption and reaching out to his political rivals under Western pressure to restore legitimacy. Karzai took the oath of office as the US-led war stretches into a ninth year, leaving record numbers of soldiers and civilians dead and with Taliban control extending deeper into the country after an election mired in fraud. In a wide-ranging speech, Karzai promised action on a raft of problems that have caused consternation among his Western backers, weary of pouring military and financial aid into Afghanistan with little in return. He pledged action on corruption, drugs, security and unemployment, and said he would call a “loya jirga” -- a meeting of political, tribal and community leaders from across the country’s complex social make-up -- to bring peace. “We will call Afghanistan’s traditional loya jirga and make every possible effort to ensure peace in our country,” he said, calling on Taliban “not directly linked to international terrorism to return to their homeland”. To many Afghans, Karzai’s presidency lacks legitimacy, his government lacks authority and the way in which he took the presidency lacks credibility. Addressing endemic official graft in a speech delivered before an audience of visiting foreign ministers, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he said: “Corruption is a dangerous problem.” “We will soon organise a conference in Kabul to organise new and effective ways to combat this problem,” said the 51-year-old Karzai, wearing a traditional hat and colourful cape. Karzai, who has built his presidential style on building politically expedient alliances with friends and foes, reached out to his chief rival Abdullah Abdullah and another rival, Ashraf Ghani. “I would like to invite all presidential candidates, including my brother Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani to come together and achieve the important task of national unity,” he said. “We have to learn from our mistakes and shortcomings of the last eight years,” he acknowledged after Afghanistan’s August 20 presidential election unleashed months of political paralysis because of massive fraud. After eight years of war and instability, the West has been pushing Karzai to commit to concrete reforms to clean up his government and restore trust. Clinton, in Kabul for the first time as secretary of state, said Karzai had a “clear window of opportunity... to make a compact with the people of Afghanistan”. Washington has increasingly expressed concerns about Karzai’s reliability as a US ally and effective head of state, urging his government to eradicate corruption to counter an intensifying Taliban-led insurgency. Yet the United States and NATO -- with 100,000 soldiers fighting the Taliban and leaders deciding whether to dispatch tens of thousands of extra troops in a last-ditch effort to win the war -- have little choice but to work with Karzai. President Barack Obama has said his decision on strengthening the US deployment is close and that he was weeks away from unveiling a war strategy review, a decision made no easier by Afghanistan’s disputed August election. Obama’s administration has warned Afghans that America’s military commitment there, more than eight years after the 2001 US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime and swept Karzai to power, will not be “open-ended”. Leading rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on Karzai to sever his links with warlords and human rights abusers. Scepticism about his willingness to comply with conditions for continued Western support will be difficult to dispel and his Vice President Mohammed Fahim is accused of human rights abuses and drug trafficking. The Afghan capital was on high alert for Taliban attacks to coincide with the inauguration, with many foreign employees of embassies, the United Nations and aid groups ordered to remain indoors. Armed police and paramilitary units patrolled most roads and intersections while army, police and intelligence all but shut down the city. Karzai was declared re-elected on November 2 by his own officials after a UN-backed commission found nearly a third of votes cast for Karzai on August 20 were fraudulent and his challenger Abdullah abandoned a run-off. In 2004, Karzai won Afghanistan’s first presidential election with 55.4 percent of the vote.

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