Page last updated at 14:19 GMT, Thursday, 19 November 2009

Karzai's promise of a 'new season' for Afghanistan

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai arrives at his inauguration ceremony.
President Karzai's inauguration was attended by many Western dignitaries

By Martin Patience
BBC News, Kabul

Walking along a 100-metre red carpet, President Hamid Karzai's arrival for his inauguration ceremony was unhurried.

But there is a growing sense of urgency that the Afghan leader must deliver progress in his second term.

In the hall where the ceremony took place, there was a sea of Afghan dignitaries as well as Western officials - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and the British, French and Russian foreign ministers.

President Karzai knows he must balance all their demands.

The West - particularly the Americans - have been pouring on the pressure in recent days, saying that President Karzai must do more to stamp out corruption within his own administration.

That, they believe, is the cost of having their troops in the country. US President Barack Obama is currently deliberating whether to send tens of thousands of extra US soldiers.

In many Western countries, there is growing disenchantment over the mission in Afghanistan.

None of this was helped by the debacle of an election which was mired in fraud.

An Afghan policeman on duty in Kabul
Training of Afghan security forces is a priority

It seriously undermined the credibility of President Karzai, a third of whose votes were ruled fraudulent.

At the inauguration, the Afghan leader set out on his plans for the next term.

His speech contained the expected phrases: corruption, security, national reconciliation and unity.

On corruption, President Karzai said he would host a conference on the issue. He also promised to take a tougher line with officials found to be taking kick-backs.

But there is a huge amount of work to do on this issue: according to a Transparency International report released this week, Afghanistan was the second most corrupt country in the world, after Somalia.

Afghans and diplomats will want to see concrete measures taken on this issue.

Many Afghans in the south and east of the country - where the insurgency is at its strongest - have simply given up on the government and look to the Taliban as an alternative.

And that is the danger - if Afghans do not have trust in their officials, then no amount of troops will make a difference.

National reconciliation

During his speech, President Karzai said that bringing an end to the fighting was his top priority.

He said that he would call a loya jirga - a national gathering - to discuss the issue.

That would presumably include members of the Taliban and other groups, and the president went out of his way to praise the Saudi king for holding talks between various sides on reconciliation.

He also called members of the Taliban who were not involved in "international terrorism" to come home.

And then on security, President Karzai set an ambitious target - that within five years, Afghan security forces would be ready to take control of the country.

Training of the Afghan security forces is now a priority, and while they are making progress, there will be doubts that they will be ready by 2014.

But the intention is there, and that is something that will be warmly welcomed by Western countries needing to assure their publics that this is not a war without end.

President Karzai's speech was one of conciliation.

He spoke of the ceremony marking a "new season."

Much of what we heard in the speech has been heard before.

The international community and many Afghans will want actions to match the words. And until the Afghan leader makes real changes to his government, the situation is unlikely to improve.

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