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Karzai Faces Western Pressure to Stamp Out Corruption

November 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the Afghanistan government must wipe out corruption. Margaret Warner reports from Kabul.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, the Afghanistan story.

Today, NATO announced the deaths of two more American service members there. And, on the political front, now that he is assured of another term as president, Hamid Karzai is coming under increasing Western pressure to clean up government corruption. The latest warning came from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Britain has 9,000 troops there, and has lost more than 200 soldiers.

GORDON BROWN, prime minister, United Kingdom: Sadly, the government of Afghanistan had become a byword for corruption. And I’m not prepared to put the lives of British men and women in harm’s way for a government that does not stand up against corruption.

So, President Karzai agreed with me yesterday that the first priority of his new government would be to take decisive action against corruption.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now Margaret Warner wraps up her reporting trip to Afghanistan, talking to Afghans themselves about corruption and their country’s future.

MARGARET WARNER: In the middle of Kabul, in an historic Islamic quarter destroyed by decades of war and neglect, local workers are restoring Murad Khane’s centuries-old beauty. They’re part of a project sponsored by the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, an international NGO, to help Afghans relearn traditional building methods and crafts.

For 21-year-old Yasser, politics is far from mind. He was afraid to vote in the presidential election, for fear of being attacked by the Taliban. Now what he wants from Karzai is peace.

MAN: It’s good that he became president. We should have peace. We have to have jobs to help poor people.

MARGARET WARNER: Khalilullah, a community adviser for the project, is expecting a lot more.

MAN: We want changes from him on security, on drugs, on corruption.

MARGARET WARNER: These are just two of the voices we heard this week about how Afghans feel. Now that the long-disputed election is resolved, they all said more of the same won’t do, especially when it comes to the corruption that plagues their daily lives.

Taliban fills a vacuum

SAAD MOHSENI, owner, Tolo TV: You have to understand that, in parts of the country, the government is synonymous with the crime.

MARGARET WARNER: Saad Mohseni's radio and TV networks, including number-one Tolo TV, hear from Afghans from all over the country.

SAAD MOHSENI: The police officers steal. The judges take bribes. Government officials it's about nepotism, it's about corruption. So -- and one of the reasons why people have resorted to relying on Taliban-type forces is because there's a vacuum, because they cannot deliver on the basics.

MARGARET WARNER: But, as potters work their wheels, we heard doubt about whether Karzai will address the issue, despite the desperate need.

Twenty-six-year-old Abdul Wahad Qadeerzada is a student who works like a master.

ABDUL WAHAD QADEERZADA, potter: In the next term, if he doesn't bring changes into the government, doesn't end the corruption, how will this government survive?

MARGARET WARNER: His ceramics teacher, Abdual Manan, believes only the United States and its allies can make Karzai deliver.

ABDUAL MANAN, potter: I am requesting from the international community to put pressure on him to bring changes. The people are tired of his past five years. There has been a lot of fighting and a lot of corruption. Every day, it increased.

HAROUN MIR, political analyst: President Karzai has always acted as our tribal chieftain, a traditional leader who wants to build consensus, where, in Afghanistan, we need a modern manager who is result-oriented.

MARGARET WARNER: Haroun Mir, who runs a think tank in Kabul, says Karzai's style makes him ill-suited to satisfy today's demands for reform from Afghans or the international community.

Karzai needs pressure

HAROUN MIR: This is probably the weakness of President Karzai, that he wants to satisfy everybody, instead of looking for results. I don't think President Karzai will bring any change on his own. I think the international community will be forced to provide, constantly, pressure.

MARGARET WARNER: But Hekmat Karzai, a distant cousin who informally advises the president, said he expects he will mend his ways.

HEKMAT KARZAI, director, Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies: Within the first three to six months, we will know how committed and how sincere he is in terms of dealing with these issues.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you have doubts?

HEKMAT KARZAI: Absolutely not. We are almost at a turning point. And the Afghan government needs to prove that it's a credible partner. And, in my opinion, I think he can come to the occasion and provide the necessary capabilities, provide the necessary skills that is needed.

MARGARET WARNER: But, to do that, says Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament from Kabul, Karzai will have to get rid of the corrupt ministers and palace mafia that surround him.

Does he have it in him?

SHUKRIA BARAKZAI: He should. He must. He has to. Otherwise, there will be no good future for Afghans. Otherwise, there will be no step forward. Otherwise, there will be no success at all. He has to take serious those serious issues.

Call for more U.S. forces

MARGARET WARNER: This debate over whether President Karzai has the will to deliver on reform comes at a crucial time, as Afghans and Americans await President Obama's decision on U.S. troops.

Many ordinary Afghans told us they fear that, unless he sends more, the Taliban will continue gaining momentum, triggering chaos and perhaps even another civil war.

MAN: If they are not here, I will fight with my brother; he will fight with his brother. And, if America won't be here, I will have enemy; he will kill me.

MARGARET WARNER: To address that insecurity, said media mogul Mohseni, the country needs more U.S. forces to protect the major cities, roadways and trading areas.

SAAD MOHSENI: So, once you're protecting 50 percent, 60 percent of the population and you're allowing to trade to happen between our major cities, as well as the outside world, that's going to stabilize the situation.

Is it the best strategy? You know, we don't know, but, in terms of what's on the table right now, it's probably the one that makes the most sense.

MARGARET WARNER: But, late in the day in this bustling downtown area, ordinary Afghans weren't so sure.

MAN: And someone should explain to the Americans that Afghanistan can't be solved by plane, by tanks, by bullets. They did also the same thing in Iraq. What's the result? Nothing.

MARGARET WARNER: Even more typical was the ambivalence of university student Hasib Naseri.

HASIB NASERI: It's a good thing, because local Afghan forces are not developed enough to keep security in provinces, districts and mountains. But, in Afghanistan, peace can't come by fighting. Even if troops are 10 times more than now, they can't bring peace.

MARGARET WARNER: And, after 30 years of war, what unites Afghans of every stripe, above all, is that yearning for peace.