/ 3 November 2009

Afghan leader Karzai vows inclusive government

Re-elected Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed to form an inclusive government on Tuesday after stern warnings from Western supporters he would have to work harder to root out corruption.

Afghan election officials on Monday cancelled a needless presidential run-off vote after Karzai’s only rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew citing serious concerns about the election.

The outcome leaves Washington and other Western supporters to work with a partner whose legitimacy has been questioned, while Karzai himself faces the prospect of having to work with a newly strengthened opposition.

Afghanistan endured weeks of political uncertainty after the August 20 first round was marred by widespread fraud, a crisis deepened by a resurgent Taliban who had vowed to disrupt the vote.

Karzai’s return removes at least one obstacle as United States President Barack Obama weighs whether to send up to 40 000 more troops to Afghanistan, where violence this year reached its worst levels since the Taliban were in 2001.

The Taliban termed Karzai’s return a farce and vowed to continue its fight to drive foreign forces out of Afghanistan.

”The election only throws dust into the eyes of the people, but the decisions are all made in Washington,” the Taliban said in a statement sent to Reuters.

Faced with stern warnings from Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other Western leaders, Karzai vowed to form an inclusive government.

”Our government will be the mirror of Aghanistan so everyone can see themselves in the mirror,” Karzai said in a nationally televised victory speech.

”There will be crucial changes in our future government. Afghanistan has been defamed from the view point of administrative corruption … under whatever means, we will get rid off this blemish,” he said.

New chapter
Afghanistan’s government-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC) called off the vote, saying it wanted to spare the Afghan people the expense and security risk of a vote with just one candidate.

Obama congratulated Karzai, but told him in a telephone call on Monday he had to get serious in cracking down on corruption and better serving his people.

”I emphasised that this has to be a point in time in which we write a new chapter based on improved governance, a much more serious effort to eradicate corruption [and] joint efforts to accelerate the training of Afghan security forces,” Obama told reporters in the White House Oval Office.

There are currently about 67 000 US troops and 42 000 allied troops in Afghanistan. A White House spokesperson said a decision by Obama on troop levels was still weeks away.

Several Obama administration officials have said one issue being weighed in Obama’s strategy review is whether the US has a credible partner to work with in Kabul.

Abdullah withdrew on Sunday, telling Reuters he was saddened by the challenges Afghanistan still faces and would pursue his agenda for reform and change.

While under a critical eye from the West, Karzai still has plenty of support, especially in the Pashtun-dominated south and east. Hundreds took to the streets in celebration in the western city of Herat on Monday.

Karzai has ruled since US-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.

”The credibility of the Karzai government is not going to be simply decided by this election, it will now be decided by the actions the president takes over the coming days and weeks,” said a Kabul-based Western official who asked not to be named.

Abdullah had emerged in a much stronger position and as the undoubted leader of a previously fractious and divided opposition. Karzai would have no choice but to work with him, analysts said. — Reuters