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Karzai Inauguration Brings Anticipation Of Change

Karzai is expected to announce new anticorruption measures during his inauguration speech.
Karzai is expected to announce new anticorruption measures during his inauguration speech.
Like millions of Afghans, Izharul Haq dreams of seeing peace and security restored to his homeland.

And like millions of Afghans, Haq will be paying close attention this week for signs of how President Hamid Karzai intends to make those dreams a reality.

The young student from Afghanistan's northern Jawzjan Province has clear ideas of what he and his fellow citizens want to hear when Karzai steps to the podium for his inauguration ceremony on November 19.

"We demand that President Karzai fulfill his promises and restore peace in Afghanistan,” Haq said. “We demand that he bring security and peace in the north, south, east and west of Afghanistan. And this is our major demand during his second term."

The ceremonies will attract much attention from outside Afghanistan as well, with scores of foreign dignitaries expected to be on hand to display their commitment and goodwill to the next Karzai administration.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will be there, as will Indian Prime Minster Manmohan Singh, the foreign ministers of Britain and Italy, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

New Anticorruption Drive

Anticipation is building over what sources from within Karzai's administration promise will be a "historic" speech.

The sources, who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, suggest that the announcement of anticorruption measures will be the most prominent feature of Karzai's inauguration speech.

As he enters his second term, Karzai faces enormous pressure from both his Western backers and Afghan constituents to swiftly move against rampant corruption among Afghan bureaucrats and politicians.

In an interview on November 15, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton warned that her country would halt all civilian aid to Afghanistan unless the new Afghan government puts in place effective measures against corruption.

Speaking for the European Union, Swedish Foreign Minster Carl Bildt warned that "we will be watching."

Karzai's speech will also touch on Afghanistan's domestic and foreign policy, the role of international troops there, and comprehensive government reforms, according to the sources from within the president's camp.

Karzai’s critics, such as lawmaker Kabir Ranjbar, have suggested that given his extensive pre-election deals with regional strongmen and warlords, the president is not truly committed to the reforms many want to see.

Nevertheless, Ranjabar says, Karzai might be able to use the mounting international pressure to convince his Afghan allies to accept change.

"Karzai should clarify the situation to them and tell them that over the past seven or eight years [his backers] have received enough. He can tell them that they have built palaces in Dubai and that international banks are overflowing with their accounts,” Ranjabar said. “He can tell them that we now need to build a patriotic technocratic government composed of people who are loyal to our national interests, and that we should let them rebuild this country."

Building The Cabinet

Experts suggest that soothing words and mere assurances in the course of Karzai's inauguration speech will not be enough to satisfy international demands for transparency, and that Western leaders want to see concrete evidence of more open policies as Karzai builds his future cabinet.

Kabul-based analyst Asadullah Walwalji is closely following the formation of the new cabinet. He tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that Karzai has tasked three key lieutenants to come up with a list of potential candidates for his incoming administration.

He suggests that even the warlords and regional strongmen allied with Karzai are expected to nominate supporters who will be acceptable to Western donors and Afghan public alike, because they no longer want to be associated with past war crimes and corruption.

"For some time, big people very close to Karzai have been looking for candidates who would meet the demands of the West and work in the prevailing conditions of the country,” Walwalji said. “I don't know if they have found such people. But if they have found such personalities, it would benefit them and all of us."

While Karzai is expected to announce his cabinet two weeks after his inauguration, the Afghan government on November 16 announced the formation of a high-level anticorruption unit to investigate graft among senior officials.

"President Hamid Karzai, after being re-elected for another five years, has dedicated his five years to fighting corruption," Interior Minister Hanif Atmar told a news conference.

RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan deputy director Hashem Mohmand and correspondents Zarif Nazar and Mustafa Sarwar contributed to this report.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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