Karzai seeks to reassure West on corruption

Sunday, February 6, 2011

MUNICH - Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought Sunday to reassure Western investors that he was serious about fighting rampant corruption as the annual Munich Security Conference drew to a close.

“We intend to focus on the drivers of corruption,” Karzai told the final day of the three-day gathering, which was largely devoted to analysing the unrest in Egypt.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was among a series of senior Western figures to take advantage of Karzai’s presence in Munich to draw attention to Afghan corruption and nepotism, which he said were “not isolated incidents”.

US Senator Joseph Lieberman added to the pressure, saying: “Thus far, we have maintained in America bipartisan support for Afghanistan.”

However, that support could fall apart “if the US people were to conclude that taxpayer money is being wasted or stolen”, he warned.

Karzai, for his part, asked Western governments to help him reform the country’s patchy civil service, a fertile breeding ground for sleaze, and invest in its economy, noting that its strategic location in Asia and its mineral wealth.

He also vowed to reintegrate “as soon as possible” moderate members of the Taliban who accept the constitution and renounce terrorism.

At a summit in Lisbon in November, NATO leaders set 2014 as the year in which Afghan forces are to assume primary responsibility for the country’s security.

Diplomats reaffirmed that objective in Munich, but vowed not to abandon Afghanistan beyond that date.

Karzai said Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, was spending $8 billion a year on security. The US annual security bill in the Asian nation totals $100 billion, he said.

Westerwelle praised last month’s opening of the new Afghan parliament, which Karzai had sought to delay because of alleged vote rigging in the September election, and invited the president to have a good and fruitful cooperation with its members.

As well as discussions on NATO’s role in Afghanistan, the final day of the prestigious conference hosted a tribute to US envoy Richard Holbrook, who passed away in December.

The main focus of the 47th edition of the Munich Security Conference was, however, Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak has come under intense pressure to resign after nearly 30 years in power.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for an “orderly transition” to avoid “a total vacuum of power”.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke of a “perfect storm” battering the Arab world.

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