Karzai second-term goals: unity, stamping out corruption

Afghanistan President Karzai faces challenge of governing provinces that did not support him and where feelings of betrayal may run strong.

Musadeq Sadeq/AP
Afghans on motorbikes celebrate Hamid Karzai's victory over Abdullah Abdullah in Afghanistan's presidential election on Tuesday in Kabul.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai celebrated his election victory and announced Tuesday twin objectives for his next five years in power: Stamp out corruption and unify the nation.

"We will continue to make every possible effort to wipe off this stain [of corruption] and prove to both the people of Afghanistan and to the international community that we will be sincere in our objectives," Mr. Karzai told reporters. "The second priority would be working for stability and peace … and strengthening a national unity."

Flanking Karzai at the podium were his deputies, Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Abdul Karim Khalili, two warlords representing the ethnic Tajik and Hazara minorities. Their presence emphasized his message of national unity after an election that splintered to a large degree along ethnic lines.

Karzai faces a situation where 10 of the nation's 34 provinces – those clustered in the north and dominated by ethnic minorities – voted against him in favor of Abdullah Abdullah. Just how to govern these regions is now a concern for both Karzai and for the coalition of political leaders who coalesced around Dr. Abdullah and say they feel betrayed by the process and the international community.

"The high officials of the government of [some of] these provinces worked for the benefit of President Karzai, but the people were not happy about Karzai and they voted for Dr. Abdullah," says Said Akramudin, an Abdullah campaign official in charge of five northern provinces, including his home province of Takhar. "They have more than 60 percent of the vote for change, so they want to change the governor."

Change how governors appointed?

Under the current Afghan system, the president alone appoints the governors and other top provincial officials. That's just one of the things Abdullah and his supporters might call to change in a statement expected tomorrow.

Their leverage at this point amounts to their ability to keep their supporters from launching street demonstrations. So far, Abdullah has told his voters not to go that route. But conversations with Abdullah's top supporters revealed that the option remains on the table and was being considered in closed-door discussions Tuesday.

"It depends on the decisions of the team and the leadership, whether they should call for protests," says Mohammad Asim, a member of Parliament from the northern province of Baglan. "It was the right of the Afghan people to come into the streets and have demonstrations, because their will was not taken into consideration and the result of the election was not as they expected."

Provincial voters despondent

The Abdullah leadership, including Mr. Asim, Mr. Akramudin, and several others all describe deep despondency among voters back in their home provinces, noting that the election has ruptured people's faith in elections and in the international community to ensure they are fairly conducted.

"I have received a lot of calls, I have heard from all the districts surrounding Kabul, they are angry," says Shkiba Saifi Kamal, the chief of women's outreach in the Abdullah campaign. "The women – tens of thousands – are waiting to hear from Dr. Abdullah whether to demonstrate."

Abdullah: likely to stick to calls for calm

That said, these leaders in Abdullah's camp also expect that he will stick to his earlier call for calm. Conversations revealed little enthusiasm for the possibility that Karzai might offer some top government posts to Abdullah's supporters. Rather, there appeared to be concern that any such deal might taint the budding opposition movement they see forming around them.

"The people of Afghanistan – especially the supporters of Abdullah – voted for a change in the leader of the government, not in the cabinet," says Asim. He doubts Abdullah supporters will take positions in Karzai's government, but even if some do, he says, "I don't think there will be a great change, and I don't think that it will solve the problem."

The idea of ceding more control to the local governments in opposition areas appears to have some credence among those outside Abdullah's camp, too.

Khalid Pashtoon, a Karzai supporter and Member of Parliament from the southern province of Kandahar, admits that officials in heavily opposition areas could face difficulties moving forward.

One solution to that problem, says Kabul-based analyst Haroun Mir, is to empower the locally elected provincial councils to give Karzai a list of candidates that he would have to choose from when picking new governors.

US to Karzai on Afghan election: congratulations, now shape up.

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