Afghanistan's Karzai meets US Sen Kerry, says anti-corruption units can operate independently

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — After "tough" talks with U.S. Sen. John Kerry, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Friday he would make sure that two Western-backed anti-corruption units could pursue investigations free of outside interference or political meddling.

In meetings on Tueday and Friday, Kerry told Karzai that his efforts to battle corruption were crucial if he wanted to retain the support of U.S. taxpayers at a time when more American troops are dying in the war. U.S. lawmakers are expressing doubt that the military effort can succeed without a serious campaign against bribery and graft that have eroded the Afghan people's trust in their government.

Kerry, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters his meetings with the Afghan leader were marked by candor and sometimes "very tough conversation."

His visit follows the recent arrest of one of Karzai's top advisers, Mohammad Zia Salehi, for allegedly accepting a car in exchange for his help in exerting pressure on Afghan officials to ease off in another corruption case. U.S. officials see Salehi's arrest as a test case of Karzai's willingness to fight corruption.

Soon after Salehi's arrest, Karzai sought more oversight of the work done by the Major Crimes Task Force and the Sensitive Investigative Unit. The two units, which are mentored by U.S. and British law enforcement officials, conduct corruption probes of high-level Afghan government officials and then feed cases to Afghan prosecutors.

After hearing from a panel he asked to review the work of the two units, Karzai released a statement early this month saying that all cases under investigation or completed should be reviewed by the panel and reported to the president. That sparked concern that Karzai was attempting to derail corruption probes of top officials in his government.

U.S. officials have been anxiously waiting since then to see if Karzai would rein in the anti-corruption investigators. While the Karzai government does intend to do more work to strengthen the statutory basis for the units' work, the president said in a statement that he and Kerry agreed that they "would always operate as independent sovereign Afghan entities, run by Afghans, allowed to pursue their mission of enhancing transparency and combating corruption free from foreign interference or political influence."

Kerry also said the two agreed on bolstering the legal foundation for the two units.

"This means ensuring that they always operate as independent entities, led by Afghans welcoming expert support and can fully pursue their mission of enhancing transparency and combating corruption," Kerry said. "The president and I agreed that the work of these entities must be allowed to continue free from outside interference or political influence, including with respect to ongoing cases."