Wednesday, November 4, 2009

US gives Karzai six-month ultimatum to stem Afghanistan corruption
President Karzai has six months to sideline his brother and reduce corruption or risk losing American support, Afghan officials have told The Times.

Senior palace insiders said that President Obama delivered the ultimatum when he congratulated Mr Karzai on his re-election on Monday. Top of his demands was action against corruption, the appointment of “reform-minded ministers” and several high-profile scalps to prove Mr Karzai’s commitment to cleaning up his Government.

“If he doesn’t meet the conditions within six months, Obama has told him America will pull out,” said an official with access to Mr Karzai’s inner circle. “Obama said they don’t want their soldiers’ lives wasted for nothing. They want changes in Cabinet, and changes in his personal staff.”

It is extremely unlikely that British troops would stay in Afghanistan if US forces were withdrawn.

The President’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has repeatedly denied claims that he controls Afghanistan’s billion-dollar heroin trade. As head of Kandahar’s provincial council, he is the main powerbroker in the south of the country, but the President has refused to remove him, insisting that there is no proof of wrongdoing.

In his acceptance speech yesterday, Mr Karzai vowed to eradicate the “dark stain of corruption”, which he admitted had undermined faith in his regime. But Mr Obama had earlier cautioned: “The proof is not going to be in words; it’s going to be in deeds.”

Afghan officials said that there were efforts to find Wali Karzai a new position. “There have been talks to find a new term of reference for the President’s brother,” said one. One option would be to send him abroad.

The American Embassy is understood to have warned Mr Karzai it will start collecting evidence against Wali Karzai if he is not removed from Kandahar. “They want tangible progress over the next three to six months on corruption, the culture of impunity and rising crime,” said a senior Western analyst with close links to the State Department.

“They have told Karzai they are going to start collecting evidence and if he doesn’t act on it, they will go public. We’ve never been able to back up our claims about his brother, or any of the commanders, with evidence. Now when we say something, we’ll show the smoking gun and say, ‘Arrest him’.”

An embassy official said Washington wanted proof that Mr Karzai was taking the challenges “as seriously as we are”. Last week Wali Karzai denied fresh allegations that he has been on the CIA payroll for much of the past eight years. The claims, in The New York Times, prompted the Republican Senator John McCain to demand he be sent into exile.

The allegations have also exposed tensions between the State Department, which wants people like Wali Karzai removed, and the secret intelligence agencies that rely on morally dubious partners to get things done.

Wali Karzai, who campaigned for his brother in Kandahar, celebrated their victory yesterday with a feast for a thousand people at his home.

Diplomats said the milestones for Mr Karzai’s progress would be agreed at a conference in Kabul immediately after his inauguration. A second conference, six months later, will be convened to measure achievement. If Mr Karzai doesn’t meet his targets, several options are being considered, including scaling back the military presence.

Mr Obama is due to make a decision on whether to send up to 40,000 more troops in the coming weeks. General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, requested reinforcements to mount a counter-insurgency strategy. Others in the White House, including Joe Biden, the Vice-President, favour using foreign forces and relying on unmanned drones and Special Forces raids to target terrorist training camps.

Mousavi supporters clash with police in Tehran

TEHRAN- Police clashed with supporters of Iran's opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi in Tehran on Wednesday when a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the storming of the U.S. embassy turned violent, witnesses said.

Reformist website Mowjcamp said police opened fire on protesters at Haft-e Tir square, but there was no independent confirmation. "Some people were injured," Mowjcamp said, reporting protests elsewhere such as the central city of Shiraz.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards and their allied Basij militia had warned the opposition to avoid using anti-U.S. rallies to revive protests against the clerical establishment after June's disputed presidential election.

"Police clashed with hundreds of protesters. They were chanting: 'Death to dictators'. Police used batons to disperse them," a witness said. People traditionally chant, "Death to America" to mark the anniversary.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, locked in a row with the West over Iran's nuclear program, won a second term. Washington says Iran seeks a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran denies, and has threatened more sanctions through the United Nations.

The turmoil after the June vote was the worst in Iran since protests which led to the ouster of the U.S.-backed Shah three decades ago. Authorities deny vote-rigging and portrayed the unrest as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic state.

Thousands of Iranian security forces assembled on the streets of Tehran on Wednesday to prevent opposition rallies and rein in political dissent.

Opposition leaders Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who both ran against Ahmadinejad, had urged their supporters to take to the streets to protest against his government despite warnings from the Iranian police about "illegal gatherings."

Mowjcamp said Karoubi joined the protest on Wednesday. "He is walking toward the former American embassy," the site said.

Another witness said police fired teargas at the crowd and arrested at least five protesters.

"There are hundreds, chanting 'God is greatest'. Police and Basij militia are outnumbering the protesters," one witness said. "Hundreds of police, riot police, Basij militia and plainclothes are in the main squares," another said.


Thousands of people also gathered in front of the former U.S. embassy for an official ceremony where influential lawmaker Gholamali Haddadadel criticized the opposition leaders.

"I don't know how they (opposition leaders) are going to answer to the great Iranian nation. They claim they are followers of the revolution but issue statements that are in the interests of Iran's enemies," he said in a speech.

Haddadadel said the U.S. administration should change its policy toward Iran's nuclear energy program: "No one in Iran can make a deal on Iran's obvious right to nuclear technology."

President Barack Obama used the anniversary of the hostage crisis to urge Tehran to make concessions over its nuclear program, saying it needs to turn the page on the past and forge a new relationship with the United States.

"Iran must choose," Obama said. "We have heard for 30 years what the Iranian government is against; the question, now, is what kind of future it is for."

Protesters carried banners saying "We are ready to sacrifice our blood for (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei," and "Death to America" and "Death to Israel."

Anti-Western rallies usually take place outside the building -- now called the "den of espionage" in Iran -- to mark the anniversary of the day in 1979 that the embassy was seized.

During the Iranian revolution, militants stormed the embassy on November 4, 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

Protesters in the opposition camp targeted other foreign countries too. Some reformist websites called on people to gather outside the Russian embassy, in an apparent protest at Moscow's recognition of Ahmadinejad's re-election on June 12.

"Dozens of police and Basij forces are around the Russian embassy as well," one witness said. Another witness said dozens of police were walking around the British embassy in Tehran.

In September, opposition demonstrators clashed with government backers and police at annual pro-Palestinian rallies.