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US ambassador to Afghanistan's criticism adds urgency to curbing Karzai

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Qualifications vs. loyalty

Karzai says qualifications for the job are the key. "If there is someone that is not good, if there is someone that is corrupt, if there is someone that's just not up to the standard that we want, for whatever reason, everybody will agree that that person should be there in the government," Karzai said Monday in an interview with PBS's NewsHour.

Karzai has broad authority over appointments – not just in his cabinet but deep into the provinces – leaving the international community with only one very important point of leverage: troop levels. The US debate over whether to surge, maintain, or draw down troops penetrated the ruling elite in Kabul during the height of the election drama, when Sen. John Kerry finally prevailed upon Karzai to accept an election runoff.

"The lesson we drew from the whole Kerry visit and the [election is that] these [Karzai] advisers, including the newer reformist ministers and jihadis, mujahideen – understand what a US withdrawal would mean," says the Western diplomat.

Prominent analysts, including William Maley of Australian National University, dispute the notion that Karzai's circle was in any way brought to heel and made more amenable for second-term reforms.

How to curb Karzai's powers

That said, the elections have created momentum among diverse players for some governmental reforms. Of particular interest is finding ways to bolster the power of the Parliament and to devolve more power to the provinces.

For Karzai's main election opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, the answer now is to push for a constitutional loya jirga. This body would have the power to amend or even rewrite the constitution.

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