Every word from the Afghan leader, when he speaks to about 300 foreign dignitaries at his inauguration ceremony in Kabul, will be scrutinised in London and Washington for evidence that he is serious about tackling abuses of power and that he can turn the tide in the war against the Taleban.
Hopes of an end to corruption were put into doubt last night when the Minister of Mines was forced to deny that he had accepted a $30 million bribe from a Chinese company two years ago in exchange for awarding a $2.9 billion contract for a copper mine in Logar province. Mohammed Ibrahim Adel denied the allegations, about Afghanistan’s biggest foreign investment project, in The Washington Post, which quoted US sources. It is not clear whether he will be in Mr Karzai’s next Government.
Thousands of soldiers and police sealed off the city and today has been declared a public holiday. Main roads in Kabul have been closed and the airport will be shut to civilian traffic. The preparations have added to the sense that this will be more than a routine swearing-in ceremony.
Mr Karzai was declared the winner from elections in August only after weeks of dispute. He failed to reach the 50 per cent needed to win after a third of his votes were rejected as fraudulent and won only after Dr Abdullah Abdullah stood down.
Journalists are barred from the ceremony amid suspicions that the President does not want the public to know which figures have been invited.
One person that none of the foreign dignitaries will want to be seen with is Ahmed Wali Karzai, the President’s brother, who has become a symbol of everything that is wrong with the administration. He is one of the most powerful people in the country despite being only a member of the Kandahar provincial council. He has been linked to Afghanistan’s drugs industry.