July 20 (Bloomberg) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his U.S.-led backers agreed to start transferring security duties to Afghan government forces next year, in the hope of handing them the lead role in the anti-Taliban war by 2014.
Governments and international institutions supporting Karzai also decided to increase funding of his government, which the Obama administration and other nations have criticized for corruption. Donors will channel at least 50 percent of their aid for Afghanistan through state agencies within two years, up from the current 20 percent, Karzai and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told representatives at a summit in Kabul today.
Karzai said he was “determined our Afghan forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014.” The U.S. may hand the lead security role to Afghan forces in some areas next year if conditions permit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
While Clinton said the U.S. is ready to help Karzai in a new anti-corruption campaign to allow the expanded funding, former Afghan planning minister Ramazan Bashardost said in a phone interview that assistance is unlikely to make a difference. “Karzai cannot clean up corruption” unless the U.S. and other top donors such as the U.K. and Japan, “will finance and tightly monitor a dedicated anti-corruption ministry” with power to force prosecutions of some of Afghanistan’s most powerful politicians, he said.
“Afghanistan’s judicial system is not independent,” said Bashardost, an anti-corruption campaigner who finished third in last year’s fraud-tainted election that returned Karzai to office. “It is under the influence of the same warlords and powerful politicians whom Karzai must compromise with, and who are involved in corruption.”
Karzai told today’s meeting that he is backing “steady progress” that has been made “in strengthening the rule of law and in professionalizing the judiciary.”
A U.S. Defense Department auditor and the Brussels-based International Crisis Group in recent months have questioned the progress being made in building the Afghan forces that are meant to start replacing U.S. troops in a year, when President Barack Obama has vowed to start bringing soldiers home.
The Pentagon’s special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, Arnold Fields, said in a June 28 report that the Pentagon has overstated progress in building Afghan forces. “Corruption, drug abuse and illiteracy” are among “systemic” deficiencies that have “undermined progress toward developing independent Afghan security forces,” the report said.
The focus at today’s conference on shifting governance and security into Afghan hands comes as the international coalition backing Karzai’s government, now near its planned peak of 150,000 troops, struggles to contain the Taliban insurgency.
The coalition registered its highest number of troop deaths last year at 521, according to iCasualties.org, a nonprofit group that tracks fatalities. This year’s current death toll of 380 comes at a rate 33 percent higher than in 2009.
Obama will today discuss the war with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron during their first White House meeting since Cameron took office. British pollster YouGov Plc last month found that 25 percent of U.K. citizens questioned want the government to immediately withdraw all 9,500 British troops, the second-largest element of the coalition, with 42 percent saying most soldiers should be pulled out soon and the rest within about a year.
The rising casualties and stalled U.S.-led offensives in southern Afghanistan have combined with reports of corruption and ineffectiveness in Karzai’s government to raise doubts within both parties of Congress about the overall effort to stabilize the country.
“Our progress is decidedly mixed,” John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said July 14. It is “time to assess how our strategy fits the realities on the ground.”
Karzai’s government declared a holiday today in Kabul, the capital, and Afghan troops and police closed off major streets to prevent any attack on the conference, held at the Foreign Ministry, next to the presidential palace.
The Karzai regime is entirely dependent on foreign support and will not “achieve his goals to remove corruption as long as foreign nations are in Afghanistan,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said by phone after the president’s opening speech.
Karzai and international donors have blamed each other for graft that has weakened nation-building efforts. A survey released this month by Integrity Watch Afghanistan, a non-profit monitoring group, said corruption faced by Afghan citizens has doubled since 2006.
Clinton said while traveling to Kabul that it was “very clear our presence, all the aid agencies” have fed the problem of corruption. Most international funds have been delivered to Afghanistan through aid agencies, contractors and subcontractors. Early last year about 8 percent of aid was going directly to Afghanistan’s government, said the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, who was traveling with Clinton.
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