U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton lauded the newly sworn-in Afghan president for outlining a plan to crack down on corruption in his inaugural speech Thursday, but warned that Washington and the international community would hold him to his promises.
Clinton was in the capital Kabul to attend the second inauguration of President Hamid Karzai, who has been under stiff pressure to eliminate the graft that is deeply rooted in his government. The U.S. and its allies have threatened to link military and financial support to progress on reform.
"What we are looking for in the second term of President Karzai is an effective government that respects the rights of the people of Afghanistan, delivers services to them, responds in a transparent and accountable way to the concerns of the people," Clinton said at a news conference at the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy compound.
Asked how that is possible when two of his vice presidents _ Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Karim Khalili _ are ex-warlords, Clinton replied: "Anyone in the government should agree with that kind of approach that President Karzai outlined today. And we expect that the government he is putting together, will abide by the direction his inaugural speech set."
She went on to praise Karzai's pledge to enact a law making it mandatory for senior government officials to identify the sources of their assets and to declare their properties in a transparent way. He vowed to end the "culture of impunity" and prosecute people involved in spreading corruption and abusing public property.
While she has been strongly critical of the ineffectual Afghan government, which wields little influence outside Kabul, Clinton seemed willing to give Karzai the benefit of the doubt, or at least not publicly criticize him on his inauguration day.
"I thought that the commitment that we heard today from President Karzai gives us all a very strong base on which to measure the actions taken by his government. He could have been very vague and talk about how were all against it (corruption) and all want to end it, but he got much more specific and we're going, along with the people of Afghanistan watch very carefully as to how that's implemented."
For its part, Clinton said the international community will work to better ensure that development aid money is tracked, accounted for and used as it is intended and do what it can to minimize civilian casualties in battle.
"We believe that we can make progress," she said. "Now, we are under no allusions about the difficulty of this mission. The road ahead is fraught with challenges and imperfect choices. Setbacks are inevitable and we have to be realistic about what we can accomplish."
In his speech, Karzai vowed to prosecute corrupt officials and said that within five years, Afghanistan's army and police force should be able to take the lead in defending the nation _ a move that would relegate U.S. and other international troops to a support and training role.
"It is a goal that he believes can be met," she said. "We want to assist him and the military and police leadership in Afghanistan to move as quickly as they can to stand up and deploy a professional, motivated, effective force. We can do more. We can provide greater support to assist them in doing that and we intend to follow through."
Clinton was flanked at a podium by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and the top U.S. commander in the country, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal has advocated sending tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Eikenberry has argued against sending large numbers of additional troops until the viability of the Karzai government is proven. Both men were mum on Thursday.
Clinton ended her day at the airport where she met with troops. She had been scheduled to fly to Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, but that trip was scrapped to trim her schedule. She met at the embassy instead with staffers from the military and diplomatic corps who are working together on development projects. Earlier in the day, she briefed foreign ministers and ambassadors from about a dozen nations on her 90-minute meeting with Karzai the night before at the presidential palace.
Before entering the meeting, Clinton joked with reporters, telling them they needed to try Afghanistan's pomegranate juice.
"It lowers your cholesterol," she said.
Afghanistan officials hope the export of its pomegranates will raise the sweet, red fruit's cachet and provide its farmers with a lucrative alternative to growing opium, the raw ingredient in heroin. The U.S. has funded an initiative to modernize and expand Afghanistan's pomegranate industry, which has long depended on domestic sales and small-scale exports to nearby countries.