The international community is increasingly concerned about whether Afghan President
CFR's Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow Kim Barker, who has just returned from a trip to
Q. What is the political situation in
A. We'll have to wait and see. President Karzai is figuring out who's going to be in his cabinet. He's kept very quiet [about] what he's going to do. He's made a lot of promises to warlords and strongmen, powerbrokers as they're called in
The real worry is that he's made all these promises to these powerbrokers and that he's going to put in people who aren't necessarily qualified for each job. People I know in the presidential palace say, "Yes, he's made these promises, but he also has wiggle room with these promises." They believe that the international community should not be quite as worried or invested in who he's going to pick. [But] Afghans are incredibly worried about these promises that have allegedly been made to the warlords. And if there's a constant drumbeat that is coming out in
In terms of having some sort of unity government where you have [Karzai rival
Q. The Afghan government announced the launch of an anti-corruption unit. The announcement came on the heels of U.S. Secretary of State
A. In terms of fighting corruption in
There are people in the government that would like to make a difference against corruption and would actually like to end this way of doing business. But it's so endemic. It's not like a separate unit is actually going to change things. They need to make this across the board through all the [ministries]. ... They need to change the way of doing business. They need to improve salaries for police officers. They need to arrest some big fish. If they were just to take one big guy--take a relative of a top official, take a top minister in the government that's getting kickbacks. Make an example of him. Put him on trial and actually get some sort of rule of law and some justice with this one person. You're going to see that go a long way toward fighting corruption.
Q. What then should
Western officials say, "We'll know it when we see it." There is no list of benchmarks. There's no list of things you can have in a country as complicated as
Q. The Obama administration is still deliberating whether to increase U.S. troop presence. How do the Afghans regard the U.S. forces currently in
A. It depends on the Afghan you talk to. But I would say the consensus is, "We don't necessarily need more American troops here. What we need is more Afghan troops, and we need a better way to get those guys trained and actually working for us." At the same time, there's a real fear that
Q. How do they feel about the Obama administration's strategy in the region?
A. They're frustrated and worried. The sense there right now is that America's looking for a way out. And if America's looking for a way out, then
Q. What is the extent of central government control? It has often been said that the government has limited writ and does not hold sway beyond
A. It's a very weak central government. I don't think that that is necessarily a problem.
Q. How do Afghans feel about this new government?
A. They're just very disillusioned. Having gone to
Q. What needs to happen to turn the tide?
A. Afghans are really looking for the same thing that the international community is looking for. They're looking for there to be a real signal of change from Karzai in terms of how he actually handles corruption and in terms of his new ministries--who he appoints to the different cabinet positions. If he goes with more technocrats, the people who are seen as better administrators, that will send a signal toward Afghans that it's no longer business as usual.
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