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Karzai Sees Afghan Security Control Within 5 Years


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Today, in southern Afghanistan, 10 Afghan civilians and two American soldiers were killed in attacks by militants. That violence came on the same day that Hamid Karzai was sworn in for another term as president. Karzai returns to office after an election marred by widespread fraud. He faces international skepticism about whether his government can overcome corruption.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Kabul.


PHILIP REEVES: The swearing in of a president is usually a proud moment for a democratic nation. But the ceremony that, today, installed Hamid Karzai in office for a second term struck a strangely discordant note.


U: (Singing in foreign language)

REEVES: After a rendering of the Afghan National Anthem, Karzai took the oath. He did so on a chilly, bright morning, behind the barricades that surround his presidential palace in Kabul. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among an army of foreign leaders who flew in for the occasion. The ceremony began with prayers from the Quran.


U: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: The guests included the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, the Aga Khan, Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, and more. They sat under sparkling chandeliers in a large ceremonial hall, alongside some of Afghanistan's most powerful figures.


U: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: Karzai cut a somber figure. He knew these heavyweights from the international community weren't merely there to support him. They also came to pressure him to reform his government before it's too late. They fear if it continues to be weak and profoundly corrupt, this will further strengthen the Taliban and al-Qaida and that the war against Islamist militancy could eventually be lost. Karzai spoke of his administration's achievements but he conceded it's time for change.

REEVES: (Through Translator) We have to learn from the mistakes and shortcomings of the past eight years.

REEVES: Karzai is under particularly intense pressure from the U.S. to crack down on rampant corruption among senior officials. Secretary Clinton has been urging Karzai to set up a credible anti-corruption government body. Today, Karzai promised effective and strong measures.

REEVES: (Through translator) The government of Afghanistan is committed to end the culture of impunity and violation of law, and bring to justice those involved in spreading corruption.

REEVES: Karzai did take some thinly veiled swipes at the countries which have poured billions into his land, yet are also guilty of graft. He also spoke of his determination to crack down on the narcotics trade and to see Afghan forces taking charge throughout the country within five years. And he called on Taliban fighters to reconcile with the government. Afterwards, Clinton sounded impressed.

SIEGEL: We are heartened by what we see as the agenda for change and reform that was outlined by President Karzai. We think that the issue now is to ensure that it is implemented, that we see results.


REEVES: Karzai is in a precarious position, that much was clear from the scene on the streets of his capital, Kabul, today. The city was locked down. The authorities declared a holiday, advised residents to stay at home and flooded the streets with security forces and armored vehicles. Fifty-five year old Ali Ahmed(ph), an unemployed father of five, watched Karzai being sworn in on TV and then ventured into the city. He is not happy about the prospect of another five years under Karzai.

BLOCK: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: I don't like it, he complained. The government is only interested in making money. No one cares for the ordinary people or their rights. Yet, decades of war and grinding poverty haven't dented the optimism of some Afghans, like 28-year-old Bismullah Zaheer(ph) who was this afternoon lining up to buy freshly baked bread in his local bakery. He still hopes the future will be better.

BLOCK: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: We're just praying to God Karzai will do something, he says. Ultimately, Karzai will be judged by what he does, not what he says. His critics took note today that he spoke eloquently of the need for honest government ministers. Yet, one of his two vice presidents is Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a former warlord with a very murky record.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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