Afghanistan's Karzai calls for anti-graft push

By AMIR SHAH and HEIDI VOGT | June 21, 2012 | 5:47 AM EDT

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, left, cuts ribbon with Afghanistan's Water and Power Minister Ismail Khan inaugurating the start of construction on a power plant in Shakardara district north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. Shah wa Aroos power plant project in north of Kabul is one of the five development projects which is funded by Afghanistan's government, officials said. (AP Photo/Mohammad Ismail, Pool)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's president appealed Thursday to Afghan lawmakers and to his international allies to do more to help him stamp out the corruption that pervades the country's government, and pledged personally to stop "deals" that undercut reforms.

President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly promised to clean up corruption in his administration without much result. In his address to a special session of parliament that comes weeks before an international donor conference, he said he would make a new push.

"You should cooperate with me on these reforms. You have accused me of making deals. Yes, I have done so, but I had reasons. And now I am changing this. I am bringing reform from the inside," Karzai told the lawmakers who he had called in from their summer recess for the speech.

It was unclear what he had meant by "deals," although the president is frequently accused of letting allies keep powerful posts despite allegations that surround them. Highly placed government officials have been investigated but seldom prosecuted.

Some of the graft investigations have come close to the president himself, implicating either family members in government posts or close Karzai associates.

The president spoke ahead of an international conference in Tokyo next month in which donors are expected to pledge billions for Afghan reconstruction and governance programs. Many of the country's international allies have struggled to justify donations to their own constituencies given the notorious corruption in the Afghan government.

Karzai appeared to be trying to allay fears that money would be misspent, even as he pointed fingers at others in the Afghan government and at the countries bankrolling his administration for enabling graft.

He told lawmakers that he needed their cooperation in cutting through alliances of tribe, political factions and personal relationships to establish good governance. And he blamed the U.S. for enabling graft by giving contracts to Afghan government officials, apparently referring to reconstruction tenders awarded to private firms that they operate.

"If the United States wants to stop corruption, they should stop that," Karzai said, referring to the contracts.

Karzai also repeated a call to the U.S. to hand over the former head of the Afghan Central Bank, who fled to the United States earlier this month in June after claiming he received threats to his life in connection with the scandal. The institution nearly collapsed last year because of mismanagement and questionable lending practices. The Afghan government has issued an arrest warrant for Abdul Qadr Fitrat.

As international forces prepare to draw down most of their combat troops at the end of 2014, Karzai used his speech to try to rally those working in all levels of Afghan government to commit to reform.

"Anything destructive that comes to Afghanistan after 2014 ... it is our sin. We have a responsibility to the Afghan nation," Karzai said.