Corruption spurs new policy in Afghanistan

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MARCO WERMAN: As we heard earlier, the Obama administration is close to unveiling a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. One casualty of this new strategy may be Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Once a darling of the United States, Karzai is now seen as a liability by some in Washington. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, the US is even planning to sideline the Afghan leader, perhaps by creating a new position of Prime Minister. The Guardian's reporter on the story is Julian Borger, just back from Afghanistan. He explains why the US is so disappointed with Karzai.

JULIAN BORGER: Because they don't think that he's doing an effective job of government. There's a little frustration about the degree of corruption and incompetence in the government in Kabul, and Karzai's failure in their eyes to do anything about it. And there's a lot of drug money, they believe, that goes to the government. And in terms of getting services out to the provinces and getting effective people in government, there's a lot to be desired. They just don't believe Karzai has been aggressive enough in rooting out corruption and incompetence.

WERMAN: And when you're on the ground in Kabul, do you get the sense that diplomats and aid workers share that anger and disappointment with Karzai?

BORGER: Well, you get mixed views. Some people believe that he should be given the benefit of the doubt because of the lack of experience, but you also hear the views that the Kabul government has become part of the problem than part of the solution.

WERMAN: How popular is Karzai with the Afghans themselves? Why do they or don't they like him?

BORGER: Well, I think polls suggest that he's getting less popular as time goes on. He's not very popular at the moment, because people on the whole don't see much in terms of services from the government in their local community. They're very skeptical about the police, another institution linked to the government which also has a reputation for corruption and incompetence. So they haven't really seen him do much for them. So as time goes on and the insurgency continues, his popularity -- along with the general popularity of the foreign forces backing him --has been declining.

WERMAN: Now, Julian, you reported the story on the new US strategy that will seek to undermine Karzai by working around him or replacing him. Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan, and the State Department have both rejected today your report. They say they're not going to try and work around Karzai. Do you stand by your story?

BORGER: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we got this from diplomats in Afghanistan, in Europe and the US. It's not something they are able to say openly because a) they want to be able to at least work with Karzai at least until the presidential election. Also, they don't want to prejudge the results of those elections. So they have to find a way to make this government work, and the way they believe � the only way to make the government work if Karzai is re-elected in August is to put someone else in there and to divert resources away from the Central government and to the provincial governors and to the district governors. And we've heard this across the board from this man. The trouble is, once you say these things openly then it becomes a shouting match between Karzai and the foreign forces there, and it makes things even harder.

WERMAN: If this is true, this is going to give some credibility to critics who maintain for a long time that Karzai is a U.S. appointed pawn and now it looks like the US is about to replace that pawn, or not work with it anymore. Won't this just make Afghanistan even more of a US colony, if it's true? And is that something that the Obama administration really wants?

BORGER: Well, this is a dilemma, really. The ultimate aim is to have an Afghan army, Afghan police, and Afghan government that can stand up on their own. But the beliefs have spread in Washington and London and Paris that this government, the way it's constituted, the way the powers are divided between central and provincial government, it's not going to get to that point. So they believe in order to get out sooner rather than later, they have to improve the operations of the Afghan government. So in a way, it's contradictory � it's a paradox. In order to ultimately be able to get out, they have to interfere more.

WERMAN: Julian Borger, of The Guardian newspaper, just back from Afghanistan. Thanks very much for your time.

BORGER: Thank you.