Kabul: Afghan President Hamid Karzai, battling to rebuild a tarnished reputation, was sworn into office for a second five-year term on Thursday, as he faced renewed criticism from Washington over corruption.
Karzai’s inauguration came against the backdrop of a rising Taliban insurgency, doubts over his legitimacy after an election tainted by fraud and complaints his government is riddled with corruption and mismanagement.
“I swear to obey and safeguard the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam, to observe the constitution and other laws of Afghanistan and supervise their implementation,” Karzai said in front of foreign and Afghan dignitaries in his palace in Kabul.
Hillary Clinton, in her first visit to Afghanistan as US secretary of state, said Washington would support the new government but expected serious results in combating corruption and building an “accountable, transparent government”.
“Well, we are asking that they follow through on much of what they have previously said, including putting together a credible anti-corruption governmental entity,” Clinton told reporters en route to Kabul.
“They’ve done some work on that, but in our view, not nearly enough to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose to tackle corruption,” she said.
Kabul announced the creation this week of a major crimes task force and anti-graft unit.
A decision by US President Barack Obama on whether to send tens of thousands of extra troops to combat the Taliban partly depends on whether he can trust Karzai to press ahead seriously with reforms.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the most prominent foreign leader at the ceremony, watched Karzai’s inauguration with foreign ministers from Britain, France and Turkey.
Kabul’s streets were deserted early on Thursday with armoured vehicles blocking off major roads. Security officers were even stopping people from walking on the streets.
The government has declared Thursday a holiday and reporters were barred from attending the swearing-in ceremony.
“They should all go to hell ... What’s happened in the last five years? It will just be the same again,” said Mohammed Shah, as he struggled to make his way back home.
Attention is focused on Karzai’s inauguration speech, which US and Western officials hope he will use to announce concrete steps to fight corruption and govern better.
Obama’s deliberations on whether to dispatch up to 40,000 more troops to fight an increasingly unpopular war proceed as death tolls mount. He said on Wednesday he sought to bring the conflict to an end before he leaves office.
General Stanley McChrystal, the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, wants tens of thousands of additional troops, warning that without them, the war will probably be lost.
A UN-backed probe found that nearly a third of votes for Karzai in the 20 August election were fake.
While Karzai had been expected to win anyway, the extent of the fraud in his favour severely damaged his credibility at home and among Western and other nations with troops fighting to support his government.
He has since faced tough pressure from Western leaders to clamp down on widespread corruption and replace former guerrilla leaders and cronies with able technocrats in his new government. Reports have emerged that US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, warned Obama in leaked memos not to commit more troops unless Karzai’s government demonstrates a willingness to attack corruption and mismanagement aggressively.
Karzai was installed by the US and its Afghan allies in 2001. He won a full term in the country’s first democratic presidential election in 2004.