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Karzai Vows To Form New Afghan Anticorruption Unit

Corruption and graft are thought to take a heavy toll on the country's economy, as well as its psyche.
KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghanistan will form a high-level anticorruption unit to investigate graft among senior officials, the Interior Ministry said, after widespread criticism and demands from Washington the government must do more.

"President Hamid Karzai, after being reelected for another five years, has dedicated his five years to fighting corruption," Interior Minister Hanif Atmar told a media conference, flanked by high-ranking Afghan, U.S., and British officials.

Attention has focused on the legitimacy of Karzai's new government after a fraud-marred election, with U.S. President Barack Obama deciding on a new strategy for Afghanistan that might include sending up to 40,000 more troops.

Atmar was flanked by U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry and British ambassador Mark Sedwill as he made the announcement.

On November 15, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bluntly warned that Karzai and his government must do better and that Washington and Afghanistan's other allies wanted to see tangible evidence of the fight against rampant corruption in Afghanistan.

The new anticorruption unit, formed as part of the Attorney General's department, would be formed to prosecute public corruption cases involving high-level officials and other major crimes, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Prosecutors in the unit would be trained by officials from the EU police mission in Afghanistan, as well as others from Britain and the United States. Training and vetting for the new prosecutors would include polygraph tests, the statement said.

A major crimes unit would also be established, as Clinton had said on Sunday must be done, which would refer major corruption and other criminal cases to the new anti-graft body.

Afghan leaders, including Karzai and Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, have railed at the increasingly trenchant criticism from the West since Karzai's reelection was confirmed earlier this month despite findings of widespread vote fraud.

Zakhilwal told Reuters in an interview at the weekend that Western countries must share the blame for corruption in Afghanistan and that some in the West were using the issue to make domestic political mileage.

Karzai, due to be sworn in on November 19, has said Western donors were in part to blame for corruption for mismanaging the billions of dollars of foreign aid that prop up Afghanistan's war-battered economy.

A central question as Obama debates whether to send more troops is whether Karzai can be a credible partner. Karzai has come under pressure from the Obama administration and others to do a better job if he wants to sustain their support in a war that is becoming increasingly unpopular in the West.

"[Corruption] requires action. Words are cheap. Deeds are required," Eikenberry told the news conference.