In Afghanistan, Kerry says Karzai must lead 'tangible' effort against corruption

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 17, 2010; 3:38 PM

KABUL -- The arrival of Sen. John F. Kerry has come to signify a crisis in Kabul.

During last year's election, the Massachusetts Democrat walked Afghan President Hamid Karzai back from the political precipice of a fraudulent election. On Tuesday, he landed in the capital at an equally crucial juncture. At no previous moment has the United States appeared so determined to force Karzai to either fight corruption or risk losing the money and troops that prop up his government.

"It is going to be vital that the president lead, over these next months, a very public, tangible, accountable effort to be providing the best governance to the people," Kerry told reporters before an evening meeting with Karzai. "It's going to have to be done."

Anxiety over Karzai's performance became raw anger this month after he seized control of anti-corruption units that had arrested a palace aide for soliciting a bribe.

"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," Kerry said. "But that's the test right now. That's why I'm here."

Kerry suggested that if Karzai ignores evidence of corruption, his support in the U.S. Congress would crumble.

"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,' " he said.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company