Foreigners fuelling corruption in Afghanistan: Karzai

Foreigners are fuelling the problem of corruption in Afghanistan, a country already ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday.

At a major international conference in Germany on the future of Afghanistan last week, Karzai pledged to step up the fight against corruption in return for sustained international support.

But speaking in the capital on Sunday, Karzai said foreigners were adding to the problem by, for example, awarding contracts to high ranking government officials.

"We have problems with both Afghans and foreigners... Our foreigner colleagues have not only been uncooperative but sometimes they have created obstacles," he told an anti-corruption conference.

"One of the ways to curb corruption is that foreigners should stop giving out contracts to the relatives of the high-ranking government officials. We have to revise and reform the contract system.

"We have lost our mutual trust: foreigners think we go corrupt for political reasons, and we think they are corrupt for the same reason."

In a global survey published this month by Berlin-based anti-graft watchdog Transparency International, Afghanistan was again named one of the world's most corrupt nations, coming 180th out of 183 countries.

Karzai said that the corruption problem was exacerbated by uncertainty over the future of the country.

"We have to work together with our foreigner friends to give people assurance," he said.

Afghanistan pledged at a conference in Bonn last Monday to maintain the fight against corruption as one of its "key priorities".

Experts say corruption is an endemic problem among many officials in Afghanistan and that the government and foreign powers must do more to combat it.

The US government has spent billions on aid to Afghanistan since 2002, much of which goes through contractors.

This is not the first time Afghanistan has blamed foreign influences for adding to the problem of graft.

In February the country partly blamed foreign donors for serious problems at the scandal-hit Kabul Bank.

At that time the suggestion of foreign responsibility was quickly rejected by a US official who said Kabul was attempting to shift the blame for its own failure in the affair.

The war-torn country's biggest commercial bank came close to collapse last year amid claims that former executives had granted themselves huge loans off the books.

The central bank governor fled Afghanistan in June, saying his life was in danger after he exposed some of those he said were responsible for the Kabul bank's woes.

But Karzai's government dismissed his claims, suggesting he was fleeing a possible investigation into his own activities.

"Those Afghans who have foreign passports flee the country, they have sanctuaries in Western countries. Like the Taliban they also have sanctuaries," Karzai said Saturday.

"Our former central bank chief is now in America, he talks from there. We want the United States to hand him over to us."

He said those who have foreign support can "do anything they want", and that contracts awarded by foreigners without informing the government amounted to billions of dollars.

Azizullah Lodin, director general of the high office of oversight and anti-corruption, told the event that his organisation needed more power to fight the problem.

"The high office of oversight in Afghanistan is like a lion who is toothless who can hunt but cannot tear or eat the prey," he said.

Lodin said there were 12 different bodies set up to fight corruption in the country, each with its own policies, but they had not made "any tangible achievements".

"All the parallel administrations should be removed so there will be only a single but strong, committed institution to fight corruption effectively," he said.

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