NATO leaders push Karzai on Afghan corruption

LISBON, PORTUGAL – As much as the international community wants success in Afghanistan, Afghans want it more, says the country’s president, Hamid Karzai.

Speaking at the annual NATO leaders’ summit Saturday, the Afghan leader said combining the two forces will result in “an effective, irreversible and sustainable” shift to Afghan control of the nation by 2014.

“We are confident that the transition will succeed to the Afghan authority, leadership and ownership because I found today strong commitment by the international community. This strong commitment … will be matched by determination and hard work by the people of Afghanistan,” said Karzai.

He was speaking at a joint news conference with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

But the words of optimism masked deep, long-standing divisions between the 48 nations contributing to military operations in Afghanistan and the Afghan people who are struggling to get ahead in a corrupt, conflict-plagued land.

Karzai sat down Saturday morning with the leaders of troop-contributing nations to discuss the latest plan to hand over control of security in the country to Afghan military and police forces next year, and to agree to a long-term plan of economic, political and humanitarian support.

But NATO officials said western leaders stressed to Karzai the urgency of cleaning up his corrupt government, the appearance of which has hurt public support for NATO’s efforts. At the same time, Karzai demanded of coalition leaders that more of the financial assistance bound for Afghanistan be funnelled through the national government so that it has a chance to demonstrate its relevance and capabilities to a skeptical Afghan public.

Currently, officials said, only about 20 per cent of international assistance goes through Karzai, while the rest funds aid programs delivered directly by western governments or international non-governmental organizations. Karzai wants to see that figure increase to 50 per cent.

“Afghan institutions have demonstrated that they can take on increasingly leadership and responsibility. The United Nations will do its part to support the civilian aspect of this transition,” said Ban at a joint news conference with Karzai and Rasmussen.

Karzai has also made no secret of his displeasure with aggressive military operations that are designed to capture and kill Taliban fighters but sometimes intimidate, injure or kill civilians in the process. Those issues were raised again at the summit, he said.

“I found an environment in which Afghanistan’s difficulties and conditions, the reality on the ground in other words, was substantially understood and agreed upon by our partners,” Karzai said.

“I hope that as we move forward, that many of these difficulties will go away and that our movement to the future will be one without the difficulties that we are encountering.”

Despite clashes over tactics, the two sides agreed to march forward again, hopeful that after 10 years of war against the Taliban and thousands of soldiers and civilians killed, this new three-year plan will finally leave NATO and Karzai victorious.

“The costs have been high, but the objective — Afghanistan at peace — remains necessary and just,” said Ban.

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