- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 17, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan | Sen. John Kerry told Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday that his efforts to stop corruption are crucial if he wants to retain the support of U.S. taxpayers at a time when more American troops are dying in the war.

Mr. Kerry’s two meetings with Mr. Karzai came at a time when U.S. lawmakers are increasingly doubtful that the military effort can succeed without a serious campaign against bribery and graft that have eroded the Afghan people’s trust in their government.

“I think that in the next days, the government of Afghanistan’s response to anti-corruption efforts are a key test of its ability to regain the confidence of the people and provide the kind of governance that the American people are prepared to support with hard-earned tax dollars and with, most importantly, with the treasure of our country — the lives of young American men and women,” Mr. Kerry told reporters.

“If we have knowledge of things that we know are happening and the [Afghan] government doesn’t respond to it, it’s going to be very, very difficult for us to look American families in the eye and say, ‘Hey, that’s something worth dying for.’”

Last October when Mr. Kerry was in Kabul, he played an instrumental role in persuading Mr. Karzai to accept a run-off vote after a fraud-plagued presidential election.

This trip comes just days after the arrest of one of Mr. Karzai’s top advisers, Mohammad Zia Salehi, for allegedly accepting a car in exchange for his help in exerting pressure on Afghan officials to ease off in another corruption case.

U.S. officials see Mr. Salehi’s arrest as a test case of Mr. Karzai’s willingness to fight corruption and are waiting to see whether the president will impose restraints on corruption probes being conducted by the Major Crimes Task Force and the Sensitive Investigative Unit, which are mentored by U.S. and British law enforcement officials.

“I’m not going to stand up and defend for one instant a policy that is based on supporting a corrupt government — if that’s what it wound up being,” said Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat.

“But that’s the test right now, that’s why I’m here. I think President Karzai and his government need to understand that there is no patience for endless support for something that doesn’t meet higher standards with respect to governance.”

Mr. Kerry said he believes Mr. Karzai knows the American public is tiring of the nearly 9-year-old war that has claimed the lives of at least 1,200 U.S. service men and women.

Mr. Karzai knows that Republicans and Democrats alike are anxious about what is happening and not happening in Afghanistan, Mr. Kerry said.

At a recent hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Mr. Kerry chairs, the panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, said there was a “lack of clarity” about U.S. war goals.

And Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that while there were “significant elements of movement forward in many areas,” he does not yet see a “definitive turning point in either direction.”

At his first meeting with Mr. Karzai on Tuesday, Mr. Kerry said the Afghan president noted issues he wants the U.S. to address, including reducing the American footprint in the nation and refraining from setting up programs or institutions that should be handled by Afghan government.

More urgently, Mr. Karzai expressed concern about Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan, Mr. Kerry said.