- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 19, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai was sworn in for a second full term Thursday, promising to fight corruption but offering little in terms of specifics, as hundreds of foreign dignitaries watched for signs of his determination to rid his government of graft and cronyism.

In his speech, Mr. Karzai, 51, also set the ambitious goals of having Afghan forces take over security across the country and ending Afghanistan’s reliance on private security companies by the end of his new five-year term.

“Corruption is a very dangerous enemy of the state,” he said, a day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pressured him to implement meaningful reforms across the government. “Those who spread corruption should be tried and prosecuted.”

However, Mr. Karzai did not say what concrete measures he will take beyond convening an international conference in Kabul in ways to tackle corruption. On Monday, he announced the creation of an anti-corruption unit, but U.S. officials are skeptical about implementation.

Mrs. Clinton urged Mr. Karzai upon her arrival in Kabul late Wednesday to “seize this moment” and implement serious anti-corruption measures.

“They have done some work on that, but in our view, not nearly enough to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose to tackle corruption,” she told reporters traveling with her. “We are concerned about corruption. We obviously think it has an impact on the quality and capacity of governance.”

Mr. Karzai’s legitimacy with both Afghans and Western leaders suffered after August elections that were marred by massive fraud. A U.N.-backed probe declared about a third of the votes he received as invalid.

A runoff was scheduled for earlier this month, but Mr. Karzai’s main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out and Mr. Karzai was automatically declared winner.

On Thursday, the president invited Mr. Abdullah to join a government of national unity, which Mr. Abdullah has previously ruled out.

He also said he would welcome in the political process Taliban and al Qaeda members who are ready to renounce terrorism — an idea Mrs. Clinton has promoted for months.

While Afghanistan will “never forget the sacrifices” of U.S. troops, Mr. Karzai said he is “determined that, by the next five years, Afghan forces are capable of taking the lead in ensuring security and stability across the country.”

“Within the next five years, we want operations by all private national and international security firms to be ended, and their duties delegated to Afghan security entities,” he said. “We have to strengthen the security of our prisons and detention centers, and expedite further the reform process within our justice system.”

Mr. Karzai’s inauguration came amid a rising Taliban insurgency fighting about 110,000 foreign troops, including 68,000 American. Mr. Karzai’s ability to strengthen and clean up the government will be a major factor in President Obama’s decision about any troop increases.

Mrs. Clinton, on her first visit here since assuming office in January, was scheduled to meet with U.S. troops and members of Provincial Reconstruction Teams later Thursday.

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