Afghans see no change to life of hardship, fear

Wed Nov 18, 2009 9:54am EST

By Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghans said on Wednesday they were resigned to the same daily grind of security fears and hardship after President Hamid Karzai is sworn in for a new term following his victory in a fraud-marred election.

Karzai’s inauguration will be held at his central Kabul palace before 300 foreign dignitaries on Thursday, but on the eve of the ceremony people on the streets of the Afghan capital were by turns somber, angry and exasperated.

“No one can change the fact that Karzai won the elections through fake votes and support from notorious warlords in return for ministerial and high-ranking posts,” white-bearded Abdul Shukoor said as he entered a mosque.

“When the government is made based on cheatings and compromises, I can guarantee you, there won’t be any improvements for many years. Our sufferings will continue,” he said.

Karzai is struggling to restore his tarnished image after a U.N.-backed investigation found nearly a third of the votes for him in the August 20 election were fake.

He was declared the winner after his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, quit ahead of a planned run-off citing fraud fears.

Western supporters have been pressuring Karzai to tackle corruption and fill his cabinet with reform-minded technocrats rather than former guerrilla chiefs with questionable human rights records and cronies tainted by graft.

“The (inauguration) is just a formality. We weren’t even interested in the election from day one,” Ahmad Siar, a student at Kabul University, told Reuters.

Siar warned Afghans would not tolerate a life made difficult by corrupt government officials and daily security fears.

“If we have corruption taken care of, if our lives improve visibly, if we have better security, then we can hope for a better future,” Siar said. “If we don’t see a visible change, people may rise up against Karzai and his backers.”

Karzai became Afghanistan’s president after U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the militant Islamist Taliban in 2001.

The insurgency this year has reached its deadliest levels since then, leaving U.S. President Barack Obama to decide whether to send thousands more troops to the stem the tide.

Obama’s decision depends partly on whether Karzai is seen as a credible partner who is ready to rid his government of graft and misgovernance, which are seen as helping the Taliban.

“(Karzai) is under intense pressure from the United States to clean up his government from corruption and bring peace and security,” said Haji Naqeeb outside a Kabul mosque.

“He doesn’t have much time left, he must take actions instead of speeches and promises.”

[original]

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