U.N. gives Karzai a warning
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KABUL -- The top United Nations official in Afghanistan yesterday issued an unusually pointed warning to President Hamid Karzai to enact major political reforms or risk losing the support of the international community.
"There is a belief among some that the international commitment to Afghanistan will continue whatever happens because of the strategic importance of Afghanistan," U.N. Special Representative Kai Eide said at a news conference. "I would like to emphasize that this is not correct.
"It is public opinion in donor countries and in troop-contributing countries that decides the strength of that commitment," Mr. Eide said, "and the debate we have seen over the last few weeks and months underlines that we are at a critical juncture."
Underscoring the fragility of that commitment, U.N. officials said the world body was temporarily pulling hundreds of staff members out of Afghanistan while it reviews security arrangements following an attack last week on a Kabul guest house that killed five U.N. employees and three Afghans.
Most of the 1,100 foreign U.N. staff members live in similar accommodations, many protected by a few local police guards and no longer deemed safe.
The move raised questions about the U.N.'s ability to function amid an escalating Taliban insurgency. U.N. officials emphasized that no more than 12 percent of the world body's roughly 5,600 employees in the country would be relocated, most of them foreigners in support roles. Some will be moving to safer locations inside Afghanistan, while others will be sent elsewhere in Central Asia or Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Officials hope that they will be back in four to six weeks.
Mr. Eide's remarks yesterday echoed recent warnings by President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who need a credible partner in Kabul to justify sending more troops and other resources.
Mr. Eide went further, outlining steps Mr. Karzai's administration should take to win back the trust of the international community and his own people after years of government corruption capped by a tainted election in August. The first step would be to appoint a government of "competent, reform-oriented personalities," he said. "We cannot afford any longer a situation in which warlords play their own games."
During the election campaign, Mr. Karzai cut deals with regional strongmen who could deliver votes. Mr. Eide was especially critical of Karzai's choice of a running mate: Mohammed Fahim, a former warlord accused of drug trafficking.
Mr. Eide also urged the new administration to draw up a "clear" and "unambiguous" program to tackle corruption, strengthen the judicial system, remove the culture of impunity and improve capacity to deliver services -- a program he said should be endorsed at an international conference in the first half of next year.
As Afghanistan prepares for parliamentary elections next year, he said, local officials should address government interference in the voting process and charges that the Independent Election Commission is biased in favor of Mr. Karzai. These were the two main reasons given by former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah for his decision to pull out of a planned weekend election runoff against Mr. Karzai.
Karzai aides yesterday reiterated the president's pledge this week to form an inclusive government and clean out administrative corruption, but said the international community must also take responsibility for problems in some of its programs.
Meanwhile, accusations that nine civilians were killed in a rocket strike in the southern province of Helmand threatened to inflame anger against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force.
The rocket, fired shortly before 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, was aimed at a group believed to be planting a bomb near Babaji village, outside the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, a military statement said.
The military said it was not aware of civilians in the vicinity, but was investigating.
First Published November 6, 2009 12:00 am