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Ghani vows urgent action on corruption in Afghanistan

Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani vowed Friday to take immediate action to tackle corruption if elected, acknowledging that donors had grown disgruntled over misuse of aid.

WASHINGTON: Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani vowed on Friday to take immediate action to tackle corruption if elected, acknowledging that donors had grown disgruntled over misuse of aid.

On the eve of the run-off election, Ghani told a US audience that as president he would immediately form a small consortium of key donors and outline economic reforms within 30 days.

The World Bank economist-turned-politician, speaking to the Centre for National Policy in Washington via Skype, called corruption a "national shame" for Afghanistan, which has ranked near the bottom on annual corruption perception lists of Transparency International.

"We simply cannot persuade the US public in a time... of immense fiscal difficulty, from the level of community to the state to the federal level, that public money can be allocated to us without accountability and transparency," Ghani said.

The United States alone has provided some $100 billion in non-military assistance to Afghanistan since launching the war to oust the Taliban regime in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. US officials have repeatedly urged President Hamid Karzai to do more on corruption, an insistence that has soured the two countries' relationship.

Ghani is facing former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who came first in the initial round. Both Ghani and Abdullah have pledged to sign an agreement, which Karzai has refused to do, to allow nearly 10,000 US troops to stay in Afghanistan after this year when President Barack Obama plans to end combat operations.

Ghani said he would work to build relations with Pakistan, which was the main supporter of the Taliban until September 11. Afghan and US officials have accused Pakistani intelligence elements of maintaining links with extremists.

Ghani said that Afghanistan and Pakistan should integrate their economies better to take advantage of the growth of Asia, including the 2.5 billion-strong combined market of China and India.

"Afghanistan and Pakistan have a choice: Do we become Asian roundabouts or do we become cul-de-sacs?" he said.

Ghani said he would chart out a 10-year plan to develop closer ties with Pakistan on the model of how France and Germany reconciled after World War II.

In comments similar to those of Abdullah at a separate Washington event on Thursday, Ghani said that Afghanistan and Pakistan should see common cause against extremists as both countries face attacks.

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