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Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised Thursday to prosecute corrupt officials and end a culture of impunity in an inauguration speech made under intense international pressure that he shed the cronyism and graft that marked his first term.
Karzai, who has often bristled at the criticism leveled at him from Western powers, said his government was doing whatever it could to implement reforms, and pledged that Afghan forces would be able to take control of the country's security in the next five years.
He said he believed the "problem of international terrorism" in Afghanistan would be overcome.
"We are trying our best to implement social, judicial and administrative reforms in our country," Karzai said. "Being a president is a heavy task and we will try our best to honestly fulfill this task in the future."
Karzai was sworn in to a second five-year term by the head of the Supreme Court during a ceremony attended by about 800 Afghan and foreign dignitaries from more than 40 countries. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and British Foreign Minister David Miliband were among them.
Traditionally rocky relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which share a 1,510-mile (2,430-kilometer) -long border, have improved steadily since Pakistan's elected government led by Zardari replaced the military dictatorship of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Karzai said Zardari's presence at his inauguration was a sign of "good relationship, good brotherhood."
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, prosecuting those who are linked to narcotics as well as those who are engaged in corruption.
"Those who spread corruption should be tried and prosecuted," he said. "Corruption is a very dangerous enemy of the state."
The president insisted he would select "expert ministers" capable of providing competent leadership.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen congratulated Karzai, saying his election illustrated the determination of the Afghan people to chose their leaders.
"We strongly support his intention to form a capable and inclusive administration, and to make it accountable, one in which corruption has no place," Rasmussen said in a statement. "It is critically important that the Afghan people, and the citizens of the countries sending troops to the international mission, see concrete progress in this regard."
Karzai won this year's fraud-marred presidential election by default, after his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out of a runoff, saying it was impossible for the vote to be fair.
In his speech, the president sought to portray himself as a unifying force and invited the other presidential candidates who ran in the election to contribute to the new government.
"I am the servant of all the people of Afghanistan, from every ethnicity, every tribe, from every place, from every province - from every age, whether they are small children, whether they are old people, women - I invite all the presidential candidates to come and help in serving this nation," he said.
The Taliban, however, said the inauguration ceremony was meaningless and that they would not accept his call for national unity.
"Today is not a historic day. This is a government based on nothing because of the continuing presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan," spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in a telephone call.
"Karzai's call to the Taliban to come to the government has no meaning. He became president through fraud and lies," Mujahid said.
The head of Afghanistan's human rights commission said the speech struck the right tone of reform but that the Karzai government would not be able to succeed without the help of its international allies.
"The speech was good because he said we need action," said Sima Samar. "He can deliver if there is a political will - but not just on his part, also on the part of the international community."
Others were hopeful, if somewhat skeptical, that Karzai could deliver on his promises.
"President Karzai has not done too well in the past four years. I hope he can perform better in the future," Sher Mohamad, a taxi driver, said as he passed through a police and army checkpoint on the boundary between Logar and Kabul provinces. "In this country if you want a good job you have to pay a bribe to get it. Maybe he can stop that."
To the north of the capital in the volatile province of Kapisa, Haji Abdelbassir, a tribal chief, said he hoped the president would live up to his pledges.
"When he swears on the holy Quran to serve Afghanistan, I hope he means it, because we are very poor and we need government help," he said. "He has spent a long time fighting. We hope he will spend more time helping us during his new term."
This program aired on November 19, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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