Afghanistan's Karzai confronts graft, opponents

Afghan President Hamid Karzai urges parliament to fight nepotism in the country.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Picture: AFP

KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on Thursday for the country's parliament to fight the graft and nepotism that is eroding international confidence in his government ahead of a July meeting with donors in Tokyo aimed at securing extra aid.

Karzai, addressing a specially convened parliamentary session aimed at confronting political opponents and the myriad challenges facing the country before the end-2014 departure of NATO combat troops, stressed the need for greater unity.

"Nepotism, tribalism, partisanship, nationalism are all government failures which need your cooperation in order to get fixed," said Karzai, dressed sombrely in a dark suit and the trademark Karakul hat of past Afghan kings, waving away interjections by some lawmakers.

"Each government worker who reaches an important rank is respected not because of his position, but by how many armed men and cars he has with him," he said.

Donors will gather in Tokyo to decide on future foreign support for reconstruction and development in desperately poor Afghanistan, which is still heavily reliant on aid, and suffers from widespread graft more than ten years into the NATO-led war.

The head of Afghanistan's central bank said this week his country would need $6-7 billion a year in aid over the next decade to help the economy grow.

Karzai said donor nations were likely to pledge a total of $4 billion in civilian assistance, but in the future Afghans would have only themselves to blame for damaging the country.

"Corruption has reached a peak in this country - the seizure of public and government properties, impunity from the law. These are all the pains of Afghanistan," he said.

"These are all the pains that the government must cure. If cured, Afghanistan will be independent and developed. If not cured, our lives will remain in torment."

Karzai's government has yet to prosecute a single high-level corruption case, despite being ranked one of the world's most graft-affected countries by the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.

The president is under pressure from Western backers to do more to fight graft, and reassure donors that their money will not be squandered through contract fraud and theft.

Highlighting the worries among Karzai's backers, Britain's aid watchdog this year called on the government in London to tighten its oversight of the aid programme in Afghanistan.

WARLORD INFLUENCE GROWING

A resolution calling for more accountability inside the government - and from donors themselves - is expected to be agreed at the Tokyo summit, Western diplomats say.

Even as Karzai spoke, reports emerged in Britain's The Telegraph newspaper of anti-corruption activists criticising the Afghan government over the award of a $3 billion oil deal to a company run by two of Karzai's cousins.

In another move, likely to have been intended to display a tough stance on corruption, Karzai in his speech called for the United States to send former Afghan central bank governor Abdul Qadir Fitrat back to Afghanistan for trial.

Fitrat announced his resignation a year ago during a visit to the U.S., saying he feared for his life as a result of his role in investigating a scandal surrounding Kabulbank, which almost collapsed in 2010 with outstanding loans of near $1 billion.