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Afghanistan's Way Forward on Corruption Post-Election

Aired November 19, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Afghanistan. It's official: President Hamid Karzai is inaugurated for a second term. He pledges to crack down on corruption, but one of his rivals calls the Afghan government a "looting machine."

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

After months of hurling criticism at President Karzai, top Western officials were there as he was sworn in today after an election that was tainted by fraud and ballot-rigging. Karzai immediately promised to battle corruption, and he said that he wants Afghan forces to take over from the U.S. and NATO by the end of his term.


HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN (through translator): I want international forces to have a leading role training Afghan forces. This is our request. Of course, our plan over the next five years is for Afghan forces to take the leading role. A transfer of power to the Afghan army is a priority for us.


AMANPOUR: But can Karzai do that and rid the government of corruption? We have two very different perspectives, a compelling interview with one of the men who stood against him during the election. But first, our exclusive with Hanif Atmar, a close ally of the president and head of the powerful Ministry of Interior. I spoke to him earlier from Kabul.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Atmar, thank you so much for joining us.


AMANPOUR: Let me start by asking you about the corruption in your country. A recent study has just said that Afghanistan now rates second most corrupt country in the world after Somalia. What is your country going to do to put a stop to this?

ATMAR: Well, I can't first confirm the findings, but the problem is there. Corruption is a systemic and chronic problem that we have inherited from the past.

AMANPOUR: But what can you do?

ATMAR: Now, there is an opportunity -- what we are trying to do now is to send a very, very strong message to every corrupt official that the age of impunity is gone. Everybody now is to be held accountable for the authority invested in them.

AMANPOUR: Do you think, Mr. Atmar, that this will happen? Because, look, you say that you inherited a major problem of corruption and a lack of institutions, but the fact of the matter is that, over the last several years, things have got considerably worse, worse than when Mr. Karzai first came into office.

ATMAR: This is his top priority, and I have no reason not to believe that the government will not deliver on this key priority.

AMANPOUR: You have just announced a new anti-corruption body. What kind of teeth will it have, real prosecutorial teeth, real ability to -- to investigate and to hold accountable?

ATMAR: There are three pieces to it. Number one is the major crimes task force and the Ministry of Interior, which is responsible to collect information and investigate.

Number two is the general prosecutor who will prosecute any alleged cases.

And number three is a special court, anti-corruption court. What is significant about this, that this is the first time in history of Afghanistan that special task force, special prosecutor, and special court have been established to deal with this problem.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about what you specifically are tasked with, and that is security. There are many people who are saying that, in fact, the security has been so bad in Kabul that maybe you yourself need to resign.

ATMAR: Well, number one, I don't share that opinion that the security has deteriorated in Kabul. Obviously, there are terrorist attacks at times. Our assessment is that of every three terrorist attacks, two are prevented, and one, unfortunately, does happen.

What is quite frustrating that we've been talking about these new programs and strategies for the past couple of months, but there's been not much progress, primarily because that our international partners and Afghan leadership will have to come to a conclusion, and pretty soon, so that we as security institutions can take this agenda forward.

AMANPOUR: So what you're saying is that this decision-making process in the West is taking a long time?


What kind of signal do you think it's sending to the Afghan people and to the -- to terrorists, as you call them?

ATMAR: Taking a long time is not going to have a good impact on Afghanistan. We need to move quickly. We all have consensus here that our challenging environment is daunting already. We have to take action; we have to fix this. This war is winnable, but we have to show the resolve, the determination, and the ability to make decisions quickly.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that the Taliban has the upper hand right now? How strong do you think it is?

ATMAR: No, they don't have an upper hand at all. What they're probably, from their own perspective good at, killing innocent people.

AMANPOUR: But, Mr. Atmar, Secretary Gates says that they have the momentum and that they seem to be winning at the moment. Is -- is that wrong?

ATMAR: Momentum and winning, these are two different things. I mean, winning what, killing innocent people?

AMANPOUR: Winning control.

ATMAR: Burning schools? Killing teachers? They are not going to win. But they're certainly having momentum because they are resorting to terrorist acts, and -- and terrorism of that sort is difficult, actually, to -- to stop altogether, but we can certainly reduce it to a size that is manageable.

AMANPOUR: What kind of message do you think the Afghan people get, or even the president of Afghanistan, Karzai, gets when there is so much criticism from very high-level officials in the West, whether it be President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, Ambassador Holbrooke? What kind of effect does that have on President Karzai's ability to maneuver?

ATMAR: We are friends of the international community, and we will always remain as friends, and we can certainly take criticism. But criticizing us and not doing anything to support us is not going to be helpful.

What we are proposing is that, look, friends, we accept part of the blame, but there are also issues that our international friends must also take responsibility for. The blame game is not going to help. The time has come now for us to work together and to pay our respect for our fallen soldiers.

We've got to hold each other accountable, and we've got to move quickly. We do not have time forever to criticize each other. We have only time now to make a difference.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Mr. Hanif Atmar, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.

ATMAR: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And as he said, President Karzai has pledged to battle all these things. Behind me is a device we often use, a word cloud of President Karzai's speech today. It graphically illustrates the words he used most, including security, corruption, international, and cooperation. You can see more of this on our blog at

And when we return, we'll be talking to a rival of President Karzai's, at least during the election campaign. He has doubts about what the interior minister just told us.



AMANPOUR: Joining me now from Kabul is Ashraf Ghani. He was a presidential candidate in this latest Afghan election. He's a former finance minister and a former World Bank official, perhaps best placed to tell us what's needed and what's possible in Afghanistan.

Welcome to our program, Mr. Ghani.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Ghani, when I saw you earlier this year, you told me that it was no longer just corruption in Afghanistan, but whole-scale looting. People are telling me now that it's a criminalized institution, the government and governance there. What can be done to change it?

GHANI: First, it's question of results. Two thousand individuals in positions that have turned the government into a looting machine need to be changed. People of integrity and judgment need to be appointed.

Second, failures of abuse need to be prioritized. There are a series of tests. The first is what is going to be done with customs revenue. Right now, there are indications that several hundred million dollars might have been stolen from customs revenues at the Kabul Airport alone.

Second are tolls in the roads, in allowing governors to impose taxes that have no basis in the constitution and have not been put in government accounts. So, again, this is a clear area.

So the list goes on. And there's the mining issue. The Washington Post has an article accusing the minister of mines of having received $30 million in payment for a copper contract. Afghanistan is very rich in natural resources, and the way these contracts are handled is going to be very critical.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that President Karzai can and will root out these -- what you call negative forces?

GHANI: The president owes his election to the very forces that are negative, so the first test is, what will he do with his campaign staff, both centrally and provincially?

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you this. One of the things the Obama administration seems to be floating is that, if the Karzai government proves incompetent and still corrupt, they would funnel U.S. funds, other international funds to the provinces, to the governors. Is that a good idea? I hear you saying it's the provincials who are also skimming so much.

GHANI: All provincial governors are appointed by -- by the president, by the central government. And some of them have been among the most abusive in terms of corruption and misapplication of the law, in taking the law into their hands.

AMANPOUR: There have been many allegations about President Karzai's brother, Ahmed. There have been allegations about General Fahim, his vice president, allegations about the son of the defense minister, bribes and such things. Do you think Mr. Karzai will get rid of any of these people?

GHANI: If he doesn't, then he's going to fail the test of leadership. Kinship and ruling are not compatible. In our history, those who have built states have had to separate themselves from their kin. And unless one meets that test, one cannot rise to become a state.

AMANPOUR: What do you make of the interior minister, Hanif Atmar, who has launched a new anti-corruption unit and told me that ministers who fail the test will basically be booted and held accountable? Is that likely?

GHANI: Well, I think the first issue is that, what's the level of corruption? Minister Atmar is a competent man, but his ministry is among the most corrupt in the country. The police force is a scandal. It has perpetuated immense crimes. The World Bank and the U.N. anti-drug operation have done a study to show how in detail the Ministry of Interior was captured by drug interests and other criminal interests.

So fundamentally, we need first a functioning Ministry of Interior, and I hope that the minister -- if he's retained in his post -- turns inward and as well as outward and succeeds in objectives that are long overdue.

AMANPOUR: So the question is, will they? I know we all hope that. Is there any leverage, any breaking, turning point right now that will encourage them, force them to do that?

GHANI: Yes, of course. The first is your program, the media. The level of scrutiny that Afghanistan is receiving in the issue of corruption, is now receiving on the international media, is an immense source of positive pressure.

Second, Afghan society is mobilizing. Afghan society intensely dislikes this corruption, because it is destroying the moral fabric of the society. It's a cancer that is threatening our existence as a nation, so the two sides are finally seeing eye to eye.

For eight years, the international community under the leadership of President Bush tolerated corruption, did not raise any issues where the Afghan public was complaining about it. Now, both the international community and the Afghan public are on the same page, and the government will be squeezed from both sides.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me play you what Hillary Clinton told the American media over the weekend, coming directly from -- I think what you're just saying. Listen to this.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have no illusions. This is not the prior days when people would come on your show and talk about, you know, how we were going to help the Afghans, you know, build a modern democracy and build a -- you know, a more functioning state...