Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai yesterday promised to root out his government's endemic corruption in an inauguration speech made under intense pressure to shed the cronyism and graft that marked his first term.
Mr Karzai also said he wanted private Afghan and foreign security companies to stop operating in the country within two years.
His government, he said, “is committed to end the culture of impunity and violation of law and bring to justice those involved in spreading corruption and abuse of public property.”
He promised to pass a law requiring that all senior officials declare and register their assets.
Mr Karzai won this year's fraud-tainted presidential election after his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out of a run-off, saying it was impossible for the vote to be fair. But Mr Karzai sought to portray himself as a unifying force and invited those who ran in the election to work together for the benefit of the country.
But Mr Abdullah, who served as Mr Karzai's foreign minister for several years, said it was Mr Karzai's administration that had created the problems.
“His record and policies I consider as the fundamental reason for the failures of the international community and Afghanistan together,” he said.
“It's those agendas for change which are important rather than my having posts in the Cabinet, that has never been my agenda.”
Mr Karzai said a loya jirga, or traditional council of elders, would be called to address the insurgency, but did not set a timeframe.
Mr Karzai, who has often bristled at criticism levelled at him from Western powers, said his government was doing whatever it could to implement reforms.
“We are trying our best to implement social, judicial and administrative reforms,” he said. “We will try our best to honestly fulfil this task in the future.”
Initial foreign reaction was |positive.
“This was a speech with the right emphases. It fulfilled our expectations,” said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who attended the inauguration.
“We will take President Karzai at his word and expect that the right words will be followed by the right doings.”
Mr Karzai said a conference would be held soon in Kabul to address ways to tackle corruption, and that his government would take its fight against drug trafficking seriously. The president insisted he would select “expert ministers” capable of providing competent leadership.
Mr Karzai was sworn in to a second five-year term by the head of the Supreme Court during a ceremony attended by hundreds of Afghan and foreign dignitaries from more than 40 countries.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and British Foreign Minister David Miliband were among them. Mr Karzai said Mr Zardari's presence at his inauguration was a sign of “good relationship, good brotherhood.”
The Taliban, however, said the inauguration ceremony was meaningless and that they would not accept his call for national unity.