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Karzai sets target for Afghanistan forces to take over

Hamid Karzai: "We will decrease the role of international forces"

Hamid Karzai has been sworn in as Afghan president for a second elected term, saying he wants Afghan forces in charge of the nation within five years.

In his inauguration speech, Mr Karzai announced a conference to tackle corruption and a national gathering to help bring peace to Afghanistan.

He also invited his defeated rivals to join him in working for peace.

Two US soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians were killed in separate blasts in the south as the ceremony took place.

'Dangerous problem'

Kabul's streets were almost empty on Thursday as security forces set up numerous roadblocks ahead of the ceremony.

ANALYSIS
Martin Patience
Martin Patience
BBC News, Kabul

Karzai's speech contained all the key phrases: corruption, national reconciliation and unity, and security.

The international community has demanded the Afghan leader do more to tackle rampant corruption. Mr Karzai said he would host a conference on the issue in the coming months. He promised to take a tougher line and sack officials found to be corrupt. There would be close scrutiny of the individuals he appoints to his cabinet.

But perhaps most significant was his call for Afghan security forces to take over control in five years. The US and other allies want Afghans to take the lead (as do the Afghans). While the Afghan army is improving, some experts say it will need continued support for decades to come in areas where the insurgency is at its strongest.

But the intention is there - and that will be important in Washington and European capitals. The allies need to tell increasingly sceptical publics this is not a war without end.

The international airport was closed, a holiday was called and people were advised to stay indoors as part of the security lockdown.

Dignitaries from about 40 countries were attending the ceremony, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

The international community - including the US and Nato - congratulated Mr Karzai on his inauguration, but warned that results were needed on tackling corruption and improving security.

In his speech, Mr Karzai said the strength of Afghan security forces had to be bolstered and the role of international forces reduced.

He said: "We hope that the Afghan forces will lead the task of security and stability throughout the country in the coming five years."

Mr Karzai addressed corruption, saying that good governance came from good management and that he would take care to ensure his ministers were "competent and just".

He said corruption was a "dangerous problem", adding: "We will soon organise a conference in Kabul to organise new and effective ways to combat this problem."

He added: "We have to learn from our mistakes and shortcomings of the last eight years."

Mr Karzai also called for a loya jirga - or national gathering - to help bring peace.

He invited his main defeated rival Abdullah Abdullah to work with him "for the prosperity of Afghanistan".

Mr Karzai also said he would step up the battle against the production and trafficking of drugs.

'No meaning'

Speaking to the BBC in Kabul after the ceremony, Mrs Clinton said Mr Karzai's speech had set out a "very positive, comprehensive path forward".

"It was clear today in the speech that the president has a vision of where he wants to lead the country, and it was reassuring to people, it was exciting because it was such a statement of resolve," she said.

"But the proof is in the pudding. Now we've got to get to work and make it happen - he knows that, his ministers know that."

Nato extended its "best wishes" to Mr Karzai but Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said there now needed to be "concrete progress".

The Afghan government is determined to fight the trafficking and cultivation of drugs. Government officials found to be involved in drugs will be fired
Hamid Karzai

Afghan MP Shinkai Karokhel said the people trusted Mr Karzai to deliver.

"This is the time that President Karzai should prove himself and fulfil his promises," she said.

The Taliban, however, condemned the inauguration.

"Karzai's call to the Taliban to come to the government has no meaning. He became president through fraud and lies," spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the Associated Press in a telephone call.

"This is a government based on nothing because of the continuing presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan," he said.

As Mr Karzai was sworn in, two US soldiers were killed by a suicide car bomber in southern Zabul province. The bomber detonated his explosives near the gate of a Nato base, police said.

Ten civilians were also killed in a suicide blast in Uruzgan province by a bomber who detonated his explosive vest close to a convoy of Afghan troops, local police said.

Run-off abandoned

The BBC's Kim Ghattas reports from Kabul that for Washington, Mrs Clinton's presence at the inauguration was a qualified endorsement of Mr Karzai.

HAVE YOUR SAY
This will lead to more mess, violence and instability in the country
Asif Chaudhary, Lahore, Pakistan

Both US President Barack Obama and Mrs Clinton have made very public statements about the need to fight corruption, and Mrs Clinton has also warned that civilian aid will not continue to flow to Afghanistan unless the issue is addressed.

The Obama administration is currently debating sending more troops to Afghanistan, with the president saying he is "very close" to a decision.

Mr Karzai was declared Afghan president after a second round run-off was called off when his sole remaining challenger pulled out, saying the vote could not be free and fair.

Widespread fraud in the 20 August first round led to Mr Karzai being stripped of the outright win he appeared to have secured.



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