Karzai critical of aid bypassing Afghan gov't

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday that channeling aid past his government undermines efforts to make it more effective, identifying NATO's provincial reconstruction teams as one of his concerns.

But he also renewed pledges to tackle corruption in Afghanistan, a key reason that organizations are reluctant to deal with the government directly.

Karzai said on the final day of a security conference in Munich that he is "determined to demonstrate Afghan leadership and ownership of the transition process" as Afghanistan prepares to take full responsibility for its security by 2014. He said he would "announce the first phase of transition" on March 21, but didn't elaborate.

Afghanistan has a bureaucracy which "both because of its inherited structures and ill-coordinated technical assistance from our partners has become a patchwork of different approaches to governance," Karzai said.

He added that it needs help to build "a civil service that's efficient, modern and apolitical."

That shift, he said, "requires a fundamental shift away from reliance on parallel organizations and mechanisms that bypass the state." He identified "parallel structures" such as private security firms, the NATO-led international force's provincial reconstruction teams and direct support to provincial offices.

"They don't produce the desired result," Karzai said. "Rather, they are contributing to weakened Afghan government and to impediments to the growth of the Afghan state structures and good governance."

"As we move forward toward 2014, the objective should be to enable Afghanistan to take all responsibility for the delivery of governance and services," Karzai said.

Many donor countries have been reluctant to give an Afghan government infamous for corruption and bloated bureaucracy authority over funds — and so distribute most of their aid through international development groups or contractors.

NATO's provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs — combined civilian-military units working on development projects around the country — often say they use foreign assistance to dig wells or improve roads because money for such things doesn't filter down from the national government.

Karzai said Sunday that his government intends this year to "focus on the drivers of corruption," for instance by improving laws and regulations and developing land management programs.

U.S. Adm. James Stavridis, NATO's top military commander, sought to dispel suggestions of a rift with Karzai over how aid and security are delivered.

"I think we all have the same objective here ... which is to transition not only security operations but other lines of effort," he said.

"So over time we want to, of course, transition private security companies, we want to transition the work that's done in the PRTs, we want to transition the logistics support, the contracting and so forth," he added. "My sense is that's in progress."

U.S. Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy concurred, saying that "we fully envision a transition, an evolution of the PRT concept."

Germany's foreign minister, speaking alongside Karzai, said it's right to ask questions about whether international money is reaching the intended recipients.

"We can only justify our engagement, which costs our German taxpayers and other taxpayers of the alliance enormous amounts of money ... if we know and can be assured that this is something that is really for the people," Guido Westerwelle said.