Karzai’s government to battle for people’s support

On Thursday, incumbent leader Hamid Karzai was sworn in as president of Afghanistan for a second five-year term. He won August's election only after his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of a planned second ballot.

The run-off was scheduled after a UN inquiry found widespread fraud, invalidating Karzai's initial outright victory. Since being declared the winner, Karzai has come under intense scrutiny both at home and abroad, with many Western officials urging him to take a tougher stance on corruption.

In his inaugural speech, Hamid Karzai said he is sure that in five years he will be able to restore order in Afghanistan and “repair his mistakes”. He promised that the Afghan regular army will undertake the “leading role” in providing security of Afghanistan citizens.

“Afghanistan is going to conduct military operations in the mountainous regions where there is no safety at all," Karzai stated in his speech. He promised that the state forces will prevail over the insurgents.

The Afghan president also claimed that people guilty of corruption will be prosecuted. “Corruption is very dangerous,” said Karzai, “We have to fight it.”

Also he emphasized that the United States will continue to be an important partner in this struggle. Karzai said that Afghanistan's relationship with the United States continues to be friendly and that the Afghan people will never forget the sacrifices of American soldiers.

Speaking during his inauguration ceremony in the presidential palace, Karzai also addressed corruption, saying that officials who are corrupt should be “tried and prosecuted.” He described corruption as a “dangerous enemy of the state.”

The president stressed he wants “experts” and competent ministers in his government, and said his administration would seriously fight drug traffickers.

“We’ll challenge the smugglers and the cultivators of opium, and my government will deal very harshly with them,” Karzai said.

As opinion pools show, the majority of people are much less concerned with the violence of Taliban militants than with the government dealing with poverty and unemployment. 70% believe that is the reason for the insurgents’ violence; 48% think corruption and government ineffectiveness is the reason for the country being in its current state.

The ceremony

In Afghanistan, from early morning people have been told to stay inside their homes because of safety considerations, and there is practically no traffic on the streets. The airport in Kabul is closed. Security has been toughened at the offices of international organizations and missions working in Kabul, while all international staff have been also advised to stay indoors. Ahead of the ceremony, international troops at NATO-led ISAF military bases in Kabul and its outskirts were put on full combat alert.

The Afghans watched the ceremony on Afghan state television, which covered the inauguration despite other Afghan media being banned from attending the procedure.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived to Afghanistan last night. At the dinner with Hamid Karzai, she told him that now he has a “unique window of opportunity” to root out the corruption. 42 countries, including the high-level delegation from Russia, are now in Kabul as honorable guests for the President’s inauguration.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with newly re-elected Afghan President Hammid Karzai ahead of his inauguration, as the Russian delegation arrived in Kabul earlier on Thursday.

Lavrov expressed congratulations to Karzai from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and said Russia will continue rendering economic and moral support to Afghanistan and its authorities.

Karzai replied that the country is grateful to Russia for its help.

Lingering rival

RT spoke to Karzai’s former opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, who said that the success of Karzai’s government remains doubtful.

“That is the same administration which was not able to change the situation in the past eight years for [the] better. Especially in the past three to four years the situation has been deteriorating,” evaluated Abdullah.

He said, though, in that time it was not a problem of legitimacy: “Since May 22 this year, the legitimacy of Mr Karzai has been under question, but before that it was not the case. So to expect from the same government, the same leadership which was not able to deliver – and these circumstances and the golden opportunity we missed under the same leadership – to expect them doing better in the coming years? We will see whether the government led by Mr Karzai [will] be able to gain legitimacy and [the] support of the people of Afghanistan.”

Abdullah said that to deliver peace “the new government should prove itself, because that plays a big role in the military strategy”.

“The issue of security as a whole and stability in Afghanistan depends on many factors,” he concluded.