The Afghan President does enough to appease the U.S. and its allies but takes a dig at British presence in the country.

In dwelling on the need to combat corruption, to talk to the Taliban and to transfer control of policing Afghanistan from foreign troops to the country’s own security institutions, Hamid Karzai did enough to appease the U.S. and its allies, who regarded his inauguration speech as a key test of the newly reappointed President.

U.S. officials say Mr. Karzai has been given six months to clean up his government, with the clock starting from the inauguration. But there were several reminders, including a subtle dig at the much disliked British presence in the country, that Mr. Karzai remains a man who does not like to be pushed around.

The U.K., the second-biggest troop contributor, did not warrant a mention as Mr. Karzai name-checked the many other countries risking lives and spending vast amounts of money propping up a weak government. Leaving the U.K. off such a list is a trick he has pulled before, much to the fury of British generals.

Mr. Karzai made a point of praising the Independent Election Commission, the Afghan-led body that ran the August 20 election that turned into such a disaster for the country. He called for the further “Afghanisation” of the country’s electoral institutions. A bill currently before Parliament will see the removal from the election watchdog of foreigners, whose insistence on an investigation of millions of doubtful ballots infuriated Mr. Karzai. The absence of such international commissioners could crush any hopes for the forthcoming parliamentary, district and mayoral elections Mr. Karzai mentioned in his speech.

Afghanisation will be far more welcome among the international community in areas such as security, where Mr. Karzai promised that by the end of his term in office the Afghan army and police will have taken lead responsibility everywhere in the country.

He devoted a substantial portion of time to tackling corruption but there was no bold initiative, rather a repeat of measures already in place. He promised to strengthen the High Office of Oversight (HOO), a toothless body set up last year in response to the last round of international clamour for something to be done. Mr. Karzai pledged that all Ministers, Governors and senior officials would have to declare their assets. Public servants on meagre official salaries will have to explain their Kabul mansions and luxury cars. But the requirement to declare assets has been compulsory for years and the deputy head of HOO, which is in charge of collecting the written declarations, complains that it has been impossible to get anyone from Mr. Karzai’s own office to fill them in. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

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