LONDON, (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Friday he had told Afghan President Hamid Karzai that British support for his government will depend on him taking serious steps to fight corruption.
Brown signalled he will take a tougher attitude towards Karzai after he was declared the winner of an Afghan election that was tainted by fraud.
Brown is trying to bolster British public support for the country’s involvement in the Afghan conflict, which has been eroded by the controversy over Karzai’s re-election and by rising losses among Britain’s 9,000-strong force there.
Seven British soldiers have been killed in the last week — including five shot dead by an Afghan policeman — bringing total British deaths there to 230 since 2001.
“I am not prepared to put the lives of British men and women in harm’s way for a government that does not stand up against corruption,” Brown said in a speech.
Continuing loss of British lives in Afghanistan could damage Brown’s Labour Party in an election he must call by next June and which the opposition Conservatives are favourites to win.
In an interview with GMTV earlier on Friday, Brown said he had told Karzai “here are the things you’ve got to do”. “You’ve got to set up an anti-corruption commission … You can have international advisers on this so that we can monitor what’s happening,” Brown said. “All contracts have got to be given fairly and you’ve got to have a serious crimes tribunal. All your ministers have got to be vetted as to whether they have corrupt backgrounds,” Brown said, using a brisk tone and referring to the Afghan leader simply as Karzai, rather than President Karzai. “If you don’t do this then it is difficult for us to give you the support that you want. Karzai has agreed with me that these things have got to be done,” said Brown, who has spoken to the Afghan president several times this week.
Brown avoided the question however when asked repeatedly what sanction Britain could take against Karzai if he did not carry out Brown’s demands. Government sources say it is unlikely Britain would cut off development aid to Afghanistan if Karzai did not implement reforms, but they suggest Britain could stop giving financial aid to a ministry that was ineptly run. More than a quarter of Karzai’s votes in the Aug. 20 first round were thrown out after a fraud probe. He was declared the winner after his only opponent withdrew from a second round, saying there were not enough safeguards against fraud.
Brown defended his strategy in Afghanistan, insisting British troops there were protecting Britain from terrorism. “We have got to be there to make sure that we can prevent al Qaeda gaining power in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he told GMTV. He said Karzai needed a contract with the Afghan people so that his success could be measured. “International support depends on the scale of his ambition and the degree of his achievement in five key areas: security, governance, reconciliation, economic development and engagement with Afghanistan’s neighbours,” he said. He stuck to the strategy he says Britain and other allies must pursue in Afghanistan — expanding training of Afghan security forces so they can eventually take over responsibilities from foreign forces. “We cannot, must not and will not walk away,” he said.