Pushing back against international criticism, Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry said Saturday that the top U.N. official in the country overstepped his authority by giving instructions on how to rid the government of corruption and warlords.
Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide joined a host of international figures, including President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who have called on the Afghan government to take concrete steps to clean up the government following a presidential election that was marred by fraud.
But the comments of Eide, head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, prompted the foreign minister to issue a weekend statement saying the U.N. official "exceeded international norms and his authority as a representative of an impartial organization."
Eide warned Thursday that the Afghan government should not assume that it will have the support of international donors and troops if it continues to accept corruption and welcome warlords into the administration.
"Troop countries are looking very carefully, and more carefully and more intensively, than before at what is happening and that will certainly determine the public mood at this critical juncture. And that's a factor of conditionality that governments cannot ignore," he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's collection of advisers and ministers "should be composed of competent, reform-oriented personalities that can implement a reform agenda," he added.
U.N. mission spokesman Adrian Edwards said Saturday that Eide had made similar comments before, urging the Afghan government to curb corruption and rein in regional leaders who often wield more power than the government. He said the U.N. mission in Afghanistan is mandated by the U.N. to provide advice.
"Sometimes our advice is not going to be palatable, but we have to advise in good faith to the best of our abilities," he said.
The Foreign Ministry condemned such comments as interfering in national sovereignty.
"Over the last few days some political and diplomatic circles and propaganda agencies of certain foreign countries have intervened in Afghanistan's internal affairs by issuing instructions concerning the composition of Afghan government organs and political policy of Afghanistan," the statement said. "Such instructions have violated respect for Afghanistan's national sovereignty."
Karzai was re-elected this month, but the vote took two and a half months to resolve because of ballot-box stuffing and the unwillingness of Karzai and election officials he appointed to accept results that would have forced him into a runoff vote. Karzai ultimately accepted the runoff under U.S. pressure but the ballot was canceled after his challenger dropped out.
Karzai promised in his first speech after his victory that he would work to eliminate corruption, but did not give any specific proposals. Eide was more detailed. He said potential government officials should be vetted not just for ties to illegal armed groups but for links to criminal or drug activity. Karzai's running mate has repeatedly denied allegations that he has been involved in drug smuggling.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Zahir Faqiri called the U.N. comments "unfair."
"The elected president of Afghanistan, after his re-election, made some remarks to say he is committed and decisive to combat against corruption, to expand the rule of law. These were very important points," Faqiri said, adding that more details about the anti-corruption measures would be presented in about two or three weeks.
Eide's comments were one of many reproaches in recent days for Karzai.
During a telephone call Nov. 2 to congratulate Karzai on his re-election, Obama said he told the Afghan leader that any assurances of reform had to be backed up with action. "The proof is not going to be in words. It's going to be in deeds," Obama said.
A day later, Brown said Karzai should "make clear that he is going to take immediate action on corruption." The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, told reporters that the Karzai government needs to start writing a new chapter for Afghanistan that should include a "much more serious effort to eradicate corruption."
The U.N. Security Council joined calls for reform Friday, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling the country's political situation "delicate" following the deeply flawed elections.
But none has directly threatened to pull out operations. Eide has done the opposite, repeatedly saying that the U.N. has no plans to leave Afghanistan following a Taliban assault on a guesthouse that killed five U.N. staffers. The world body has estimated that it is pulling out 200 international staffers because of the attacks and is temporarily relocating about 600 while they arrange more secure residences.
The U.S. has already committed 68,000 troops in Afghanistan and Obama is currently reviewing a plan to send tens of thousands more. The U.S. said during the Afghan election that it was looking for a legitimate partner in Afghanistan, but even though Obama has called for reform, he has not said his troop decision hinges on the credibility of the Karzai administration.
In Brussels this past week, the Pentagon's policy chief said the U.S. remains committed in Afghanistan.
"No one is talking about leaving Afghanistan, or even standing pat. We are increasing our commitment and we're talking about how best to do that with both civilian and military resources," Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy told NATO ambassadors Thursday, according to a transcript released Saturday.
Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.