Karzai faces tough questions in Japan

The Afghan president is set to face tough questions over governance and corruption from one of his country's major aid donors.

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The Afghan president Hamid Karzai was set to face tough questions over governance and corruption from one of his country's major aid donors when he arrives in Japan today for a five-day visit. Japan last year pledged up to five billion dollars in aid over five years until 2013, provided the security situation allows projects to go ahead and contingent on guarantees the assistance will not be lost to graft.

It will be Mr Karzai's fourth trip to Japan, and his first since he won his second presidential term last November in elections widely criticised as marred by ballot-stuffing and vote-rigging. Talks with Japan's new prime minister Naoto Kan and the foreign minister Katsuya Okada will focus on improvement of security and the wider development of the war-torn and dirt-poor central Asian nation. "The quality of governance needs to be improved," the Japanese foreign ministry press secretary Kazuo Kodama said.

"We do have sympathy for his challenges, but at the same time, in order for his government... to really succeed in addressing all these challenges, he has got to put his government in order," Mr Kodama said. "So I think prime minister Kan and foreign minister Okada will certainly look forward to discussing these issues in a candid, straight-forward manner." Kabul said Mr Karzai was travelling with his foreign and finance ministers, as well as national security advisor Rangeen Dadfar Spanta.

Japan, whose military is restricted by a post-World War II pacifist constitution, has not deployed troops to Afghanistan, but the world's second biggest economy is one of the biggest donors to the country. "This visit is one of the president's most important trips. Japan has been one of our key allies. It has been among key contributors to Afghanistan's reconstruction," Mr Karzai's spokesman Hamid Elmi said.

"They have pledged a new fund of five billion dollars over five years. The trip is a four-day trip, which in itself shows that Japan and this visit is important for the president." Japanese aid has built 650 kilometres of highway and a new Kabul airport terminal, and its city planners are working to redevelop the capital, where more than 100 Japanese buses are now providing public transport. Of the aid package pledged last year, about 980 million dollars have been disbursed, including more than 300 million dollars to pay the wages of Afghanistan's 80,000 police officers, Japanese officials say. * AFP