- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | President Hamid Karzai began his second term in office Thursday with a pledge to fight corruption and by setting a goal for Afghan forces to take over security within the next five years.

Mr. Karzai spelled out his agenda at his swearing-in for a new five-year term before hundreds of foreign guests and prominent Afghans.

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

Mr. Karzai did not say what concrete measures he will take beyond convening an international conference in Kabul on ways to tackle corruption.

On Monday, he announced the creation of an anti-corruption unit. During Mr. Karzai’s first term, some government officials are thought to have stolen millions of dollars and others were accused of becoming wealthy from the opium trade.

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 United Nations-backed probe declared that about a third of the votes he received were 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 previously ruled out.

He also said he would welcome into the political process Taliban members who are ready to renounce terrorism - an idea Mrs. Clinton has promoted for months.

Although 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 Americans. Mr. Karzai’s ability to strengthen and clean up the government will be a major factor in President Obama’s pending decision about any troop increases.

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