Surreal news crossed the wire yesterday that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is actually thinking twice about awarding a sweet security business contract to a key ally of his crooked half-brother – the “alleged” extortionist, mob boss and drug trafficker Ahmed Wali Karzai – which some say could solidify his already unrivaled power in Kandahar.
It’d be an especially brazen move considering just last week in a much publicized meeting with President Obama, Karzai promised to reign in his notorious sibling and take care of the “AWK” problem.
Surreal because as President Karzai sits in his palace, rubbing his chin trying to make a decision, for the first time on record public accusations have been launched against AWK from within the Afghan government. General Sher Mohammad Zazi, the Corps Commander of the Afghan Army in Kandahar, is accusing AWK of illegal appropriation of government land around the southern city of Kandahar, where he conveniently sits as the head of the Kandahar Provincial Council.
It’s easy for President Karzai to wave off clamoring from Western officials who don’t understand the political landscape in Afghanistan, but it will be much harder to dismiss accusations coming from one of his own senior military officers. And how does AWK react to these most recent accusations? In a true show of leadership he shut down the Kandahar legislature and said he refuses to lead the provincial council until he can clear his name.
Losing the Political War
The counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is a political war as much as it is a military one – especially in Kandahar, the spiritual cradle and birthplace of the Taliban. The U.S. is gridlocked militarily but is getting destroyed on the political front primarily because President Karzai and Ahmed Wali continue to undermine the legitimacy of the Afghan government while stealing billions with impunity from the U.S. and its allies.
One senior NATO official had calculated that the “Karzai cartel” was making more than a billion dollars a year off the Afghanistan war via lucrative contracts and sub-contracting spin-offs in convoy protection, construction, fuel, food and security. And in the process they are alienating the very people they are supposed to protect who are so distraught with AWK’s corruption that a majority of Kandaharis are now supporting the insurgency.
Ann Marlowe has been on the ground in Afghanistan through six “embeds” and her characterization of the impact of the brothers Karzai is draw-dropping, as she goes a step further and accuses them of complicity with the enemy:
We are supporting a criminal state in Kabul that is likely involved with the insurgency itself. There is almost nothing to distinguish the Taliban from the Karzai mafias, whose tentacles reach down to the most obscure rural districts.
The Afghan state is being hollowed out from the inside and becoming a branch of a lucrative criminal enterprise.
Why would the Karzais have any interest in defeating the insurgency? They are profiting from it. Once we leave, the cause of expelling the foreign troops vanishes; al-Qaeda has much more of an interest in nuclear Pakistan; and the Karzais would likely meet the same end as Najibullah, strung up in the streets, once they lose our support.
High Crimes and Corruption
Awarding the security business to the ally of Karzai’s half-brother would also be controversial because AWK himself is already being implicated as the ringleader of a patronage network who is siphoning off $2 billion worth of government security transportation contracts and feeding local warlords and even a few Taliban commanders in what has amounted to a convoy protection racket, according to a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG).
AWK personally lobbied U.S. policymakers and top Afghan officials to approve this most recent security contract. The pending proposal from the Afghan Interior Ministry calls for the consolidation of about two-dozen security firms into one called the Kandahar Security Company, under the command of a Kandahar-based security mogul known simply as Ruhullah, AWK’s close associate. Ruhullah said the deal would create a 2,500-person security firm to provide protection for NATO supply convoys – making it the biggest company of its kind in Afghanistan.
The U.S. and NATO have such a low level of trust in AWK that they are afraid he could use this new force to disrupt attempts during a U.S.-backed drive in Kandahar to supplant him and his network of relatives and allies.
AWK’s corruption and potential criminal activity is not breaking news, but the fact that someone might actually have evidence is, as in this most recent illegal land deal. However, there has been a significant amount of proof that AWK has been heavily involved with Afghanistan’s $4 billion heroin trade, most of it circumstantial, but definitely worth looking into.
In 2001, he lived rent-free in a house owned by a known Afghani drug trafficker. AWK’s lame excuse that was bought without question was that he could not afford to move and was unaware of the connection. He was also openly accused in the Afghani parliament in 2007 of being involved in the international drug trade.
In 2005, when President Karzai vented to Pakistan’s President Musharraf about cross-border smuggling, Musharraf had suggested that “perhaps Karzai should set an example by bringing his sibling under control.”
On October 4, 2008, the New York Times charged that “numerous reports link Wali Karzai to the drug trade, according to current and former officials of the White House, the State Department and the United States Embassy in Afghanistan…”
In 2004, a store of heroin was discovered in a truck outside Kandahar and Wali Karzai allegedly directed that the vehicle be released. In 2006, American and Afghan counter-narcotics agents discovered 110 pounds of heroin in a truck outside Kabul which also was linked to AWK.
Last summer he added election fraud to his list of allegations as opponents lambasted AWK for shutting down polling places and stuffing ballot boxes in areas where opposition to Hamid Karzai was heavy, ensuring his half-brother could extend his term as President.
Next Up in Part 2: There is no smoking gun because nobody has looked for one. Protected by CIA, Ahmed Wali has never been nailed. The U.S. and NATO are turning a blind eye becuase they think they need him to conduct Kandahar campaign successfully. But is he really worth it?
Click Here for Part 2 of “Karzai’s corrupt sibling compromises the mission in Afghanistan.”
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