Karzai launches Afghan anti-corruption force

Afghan government reveals new unit to tackle corruption. UN inspectors warn of more hidden nuclear sites in Iran. Thirteen Iraqi villagers killed by gunmen. China and US remain divided on Iran. All this and much more, in today’s security briefing.
Dries Belet
17 November 2009

After sustained pressure from the United States and Europe to do more about corruption in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has unveiled plans to set up a new taskforce. The unit will cooperate with the FBI and the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency, according to the government.

Details of the plan came out after the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, had urged the Afghan government to create an “anti-corruption commission”. She also called on Karzai for a “major crimes tribunal”.

Afghanistan’s minister of the interior, Hanif Atmar, said the creation of the new force was “for the sake of the Afghan people”, and did not result from external pressure. He went on to explain the purpose of the anti-corruption unit, stating that “the idea of the unit is that all top-level employees in Afghanistan involved in corruption should be held responsible, both civilian and military, and if proved guilty they should be fired and prosecuted in accordance with the law.”

US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who has counselled president Obama not to send additional troops to Afghanistan because of the government’s endemic corruption, expressed his continued scepticism about the initiative, saying, “words are cheap. Deeds are required.”

The openSecurity verdict:

Rampant corruption in Karzai’s administration has been one of the primary causes for support for the Taliban insurgents. Common people in the dirt-poor country of Afghanistan feel out of touch with the government, because Karzai’s cronies have used their offices to enrich themselves. All the while the Taliban continue to campaign on an anti corruption platform, much as they did during the 1990s Afghan civil war. So far, the president has been unwilling to deal with these issues. Because the Afghan government has already promised to take on corruption multiple times, Western observers and the Afghan population will retain doubts until actual progress is made.

Only a corruption-free government will be able to warm the Afghan people to democracy. Moreover, government integrity is absolutely necessary to fight the massive drug-trade (as opposed to grabbing a share from it), wrest legitimacy away from the powerful warlords and Islamic extremists, and allow Western countries to commit more military assistance and civilian aid.

The United States has been holding back its decision about deploying additional troops in Afghanistan, hoping to use this as leverage on Karzai, in order to extract more concessions from him. On Sunday, Clinton warned that the US could very well leave Karzai to his fate, claiming that America has no strategic interest in a long-term occupation of the country.

However, the problem with this tactic is that president Obama cannot keep postponing his decision forever. There has been a lot of muttering in Washington about his alleged indecisiveness, and the sliding military situation in Afghanistan  – with the Taliban gaining ground fast – necessitates either a quick deployment of more troops or a substantial moderation of Western objectives.

Inspectors warn of more hidden nuclear sites in Iran.

After their visit to the Qom facility, inspectors from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said they fear Iran might have other secret nuclear plants. On Monday, the IAEA said that the site in a mountain near the holy city of Qom, which was previously kept secret, was already quite advanced and would have been capable of nuclear fuel production by 2011. Iran tried to keep construction of the plant hidden from the UN agency, but it was discovered by Western intelligence services who informed the IAEA of its existence in September.

In a sceptical report, the inspectors stated that "Iran's declaration of the new facility reduces the level of confidence in the absence of other nuclear facilities under construction and gives rise to questions about whether there were any other nuclear facilities not declared to the agency.” Inspectors reasoned that Iran would not have built the facility, if it did not have supporting sites elsewhere to provide alternatives in case the main centres were to be bombed.

Thirteen Iraqi villagers killed by Gunmen

Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms abducted and shot dead at least thirteen people in a village to the South-West of Baghdad. The bodies were found on Monday, and include a senior figure from the Iraqi Islamic party, the country’s biggest Sunni group.

Officials and locals said that, the night before, the attackers raided the home of Ouda al-Shuker, a leader of the Sunni Awakening movement that has supported the US against al-Qaeda. The gunmen forced him and, among others, three of his sons and four of his cousins, to go outside, where they were shot in the head.

The motive for the killings remains unclear. A local villager claims the attackers in all likelihood were from al-Qaeda, and aimed to create unrest in the region. However, an army official told reporters the shooting was related to a tribal dispute.

China and US remain divided on Iran

In a meeting focused on climate change and the global economy, President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, took time to discuss security issues with regard to Iran and North Korea.

The US and China still differ significantly on Iran’s nuclear programme. While President Obama warned that “Iran has an opportunity to present and demonstrate its peaceful intentions, but if it fails to take this opportunity, there will be consequences”, Hu’s only statement on the issue was that there should be a negotiated solution. China has strategic investments in Iran’s energy sector and is traditionally reluctant to consider tough measures against it, such as UN sanctions.

President Obama thanked the Chinese government for its continued support with respect to non-proliferation and North Korea’s nuclear programme. China and America plan to restart six-party talks with North Korea soon.

The US president was also mildly critical about human rights issues, and mentioned the importance of open Internet use and his opposition to censorship.

Explosion hits police station in Peshawar

A suicide car bomb killed at least four people on Monday, badly damaging the targeted police building and a nearby mosque. The city of Peshawar, in the north-west of Pakistan, has been under siege, with the recent bombing being the fifth attack in just over a week, since the army commenced a large-scale offensive against Islamist militants. A local police official said that officers opened fire as the vehicle approached, but that the driver was still able to set off the explosives.

In a separate incident, a tribal elder was killed in his home in the Bajaur region, an area to the north of Peshawar. According to a local official, the attackers were suspected to be Taliban militants, slaying Malik Sher Zaman because he decided to support the government instead of the Taliban.

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