PRESIDENT Karsai's inauguration on Thursday was a low-key affair, necessarily so after the dubious means by which he got his second five-year term of office. He also seemed almost penitent in the way that he embraced the reforms that Western leaders have been urging him to adopt. Yes, he will fight corruption; yes, he will end drug trafficking; yes, he invited his main opponent Abdullah Abdullah to work with the new government; and, yes, he will call a “loya jirga” tribal gathering to promote national unity. And yes, yes, yes he wants Afghan forces to be trained to be competent enough to take over security from the NATO coalition forces within five years.

Promises, promises. As yet there is no reason to think that Hamid Karsai can be trusted to carry out the necessary reforms, no matter how often he says he will do so. If the target for a Western withdrawal from Afghanistan is to be five years -- and this time scale is now being proposed in many places -- it will not be sufficient to sit back and wait to see how effective Karsai proves to be in changing things. What is needed is an agreed list of specific objectives to be achieved and target dates for their attainment. Only in that way will it be possible to keep track of progress being made. Karsai might object but he should be held to an agreement of this kind.


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