Clinton visits Afghanistan with message on corruption

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 11:51 AM

KABUL-- On the eve of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's inauguration to a second term, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Kabul Wednesday with a message that the Afghan leader needed to "make a new compact" with Afghan people by improving governance and cracking down on corruption.

Clinton's visit comes as the Obama administration has grown increasingly doubtful of Karzai's ability to clean up the pervasive corruption that has discredited his administration.

She called Karzai's second term in office, which comes after a disputed election last summer and a failed attempt for a runoff vote, a "critical moment" to "have accountability and tangible results that will improve the lives of the people." The inauguration marks a time of opportunity, Clinton said, and a potential turning point for a country facing an increasingly deadly insurgency.

The senior U.S. diplomat spoke briefly in the foyer of the American embassy to staff members who crowded on the stairs and on higher floors to hear her. Accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and regional envoy Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Clinton praised the diplomatic staff for their long hours on a dangerous assignment.

"We need your help to guide our thinking and strategy in Washington. We need your feedback about what works and what doesn't work. We need your honest assessment," she told them.

Clinton later met with other senior American diplomats and with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, who has recommended that Obama send some 40,000 more troops to combat the growing Taliban presence in Afghanistan. Clinton also planned to meet with Karzai Wednesday evening before attending his inauguration on Thursday.

President Obama has promised an announcement on troop levels within several weeks.

Since Karzai emerged victorious from an election this summer that was tarnished by fraud, American diplomats have grown increasingly insistent in their demands that he take steps to improve the legitimacy of his government in the eyes of Afghans.

Karzai, who relied heavily on a cast of warlords to win the election, is in the process of choosing a new cabinet, a decision that will signal how seriously he wants to pursue reform.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company