Karzai opens Afghan House, taunts West

Members of the Afghan parliament leave after an inauguration ceremony in Kabul on Wednesday. REUTERS

Afghan President Hamid Karzai inaugurated parliament on Wednesday, ending weeks of political infighting, but took a dig at the West in his opening remarks, saying “foreign interference” had been a “serious problem”.

Afghanistan’s government was plunged into political crisis last week after Karzai decided to delay the opening of the new parliament by a month to allow a special poll court he established time to investigate fraud in the September 18 election.

Washington is pressing Karzai to demonstrate good governance as it looks to withdraw US forces from an unpopular war now in its tenth year, and the latest showdown renewed concern about the president’s credibility as an ally.

Under huge pressure from winning candidates, who threatened to take their seats in parliament this month with or without him, and in the face of criticism from the United Nations and countries supporting Afghanistan with troops and cash, Karzai backed down and agreed to a Wednesday inauguration.

Western nations were then quick to applaud the compromise and called the inauguration a “big day” for Afghanistan, but the US said it would “closely monitor” developments.

Karzai, who has already accused Western powers of meddling in a fraud-ridden presidential poll that saw him re-elected in 2009, said foreign interference in last year’s parliamentary vote had led to a less transparent election.

“During the election process we faced serious problems in protecting people’s votes, preventing fraud, and from the interference of foreigners,” Karzai said in his opening speech to members of the assembly shortly before they were sworn in.

“We must ‘Afghanise’ government institutions and the elections. Undoubtedly, elections convened by the Afghans will be more transparent, less expensive,” he said. Karzai’s relations with the West have often been rocky and tension came to a head last year when he accused Western countries of carrying out fraud in a presidential poll in order to install an ineffective government.

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