KABUL — Seeking to smooth over a key point of contention before President Hamid Karzai's inauguration Thursday, senior Afghan officials Monday unveiled what they described as tough anticorruption measures.
In apparent response to growing international pressure, Afghanistan's chief justice, interior minister, justice minister, security chief and attorney general appeared at a joint news conference. The ambassadors to Britain and the United States also attended the briefing, in what appeared to be a gesture aimed at demonstrating solidarity in the anticorruption fight, but also providing an implicit warning to the Karzai camp of the consequences of failure to act.
"Words are cheap. Deeds are required," U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said at a hotel where Afghan officials announced they had established the Anti-Corruption Unit and Major Crime Force.
Interior Minister Hanif Atmar said that the international community did not force the government to set up the unit. He said Afghan officials asked the FBI, Interpol and Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency to help establish a crime-fighting unit several months ago.
Still, the timing of Monday's announcement, just days before Karzai is inaugurated for a second five-year term after an election marred by fraud, was a clear indication that he is trying to show he's serious about battling corruption — from influence peddling and police bribes to the failure to prosecute government officials who have profited from their positions.
"With the beginning of President Karzai's second term, there really is a powerful opportunity to strengthen the rule of law and to build an even stronger record of accountability and honesty," said Eikenberry, who has questioned the wisdom of adding U.S. forces when the Afghan political situation is unstable and uncertain. "We must act together. We must act quickly."
The Afghans boasted that they have actively reassigned poorly qualified judges to administrative positions, arrested several hundred people for narcotics offenses in the past year and removed dozens of corrupt police officers from the force.
"For the people involved in corruption — that time is over now," Atmar said.
"Corruption is the cancer that is destroying the lives of the people," said Justice Minister Mohammad Sarwar Danish.