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Time, October 28, 2009

Why Wali Karzai is a Problem for Afghanistan — and the U.S.

... Wali Karzai is both a major drug trafficker and that he has been protected not just by his brother but by CIA operatives as well

By Aryn Baker

The claim that Ahmed Wali Karzai has been on the pay roll of the CIA for the past eight years, as reported in today's New York Times, won't come as a surprise to most Afghans, who have long considered his brother, Afghan president Hamid Karzai, to be an American puppet. The revamped allegations that Karzai frère is deeply involved in Afghanistan's annual $4-billion drug industry isn't much of a shocker either — on the streets of Kabul and Kandahar the name 'Wali' has long been synonymous with someone who can get away with a crime because he has friends in the right places. Diplomats, counter-narcotics officials and commanders from the International Security Assistance Force, NATO's military wing in Afghanistan, have all privately (and not so privately) expressed frustration with President Karzai for not reining in his brother. In fact, the people most likely to be shocked by the revelations are Americans back at home, who are already wondering why we should be sending more soldiers and money to a country whose leadership has rarely proved an adequate partner.

Ahmad Wali Karzai
The Times, November 24, 2007: "President Karzai's half-brother Wali, head of Kandahar's provincial council, continues to be accused by senior government sources, as well as foreign analysts and officials, as having a key role in orchestrating the movement of heroin from Kandahar eastward through Helmand and out across the Iranian border."

The Globe and Mail, May.3, 2008: The man considered by many observers to be the most powerful and feared figure in the Afghan south is not the Kandahar governor but rather Ahmed Wali Karzai, appointed by his brother, President Hamid Karzai, to represent Kandahar province in Kabul. A government document leaked to ABC News two years ago accused him of being the central figure in the region's vast opium-export market, which produces the majority of the world's opium and heroin.

New York Times, October 5, 2008: Numerous reports link Ahmed Wali Karzai to the drug trade, according to current and former officials from the White House, the State Department and the United States Embassy in Afghanistan, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

That the CIA might turn a blind eye to the unsavory extra-curricular activities of a local asset isn't exactly new either. It's emblematic of the often-shady compromises conducted on a daily basis around the globe in the name of increased American security. (If you think we are only talking to "good" guys to get information on al-Qaeda, think again — men with clean hands rarely truck with those without). But this time, if the New York Times' charges are true, the revelations that Wali Karzai is both a major drug trafficker and that he has been protected not just by his brother but by CIA operatives as well, establishes a chain of causality between the efforts of U.S. intelligence to obtain information and influence, and drug monies that pay for a insurgency that has taken 53 American lives this month — the highest death toll ever for Americans in Afghanistan. Karzai, today, denied both allegations, telling the Associated Press that the paper's report was "ridiculous."

Because where there is drug running, there is corruption and cover-ups. When cops can be paid to look the other way when a drug shipment belonging to major drug lord passes by, or are too afraid to rat on drug runners with influence, what's to stop well-funded terrorists from getting past a police check post with a load of grenade launchers instead of heroin? Wednesday's brazen suicide raid on an international guesthouse in Kabul that killed six U.N. employees, including one American, and a subsequent RPG volley on the capital's only five star hotel, is a clear indication that the city's protective perimeter — manned by Afghan security forces — was breached. If the CIA can't uphold law and order in Afghanistan, how can one expect Afghans, who haven't had much experience with either over the past 30 years, do better?

To be sure, as one of the most powerful men in Kandahar, Wali Karzai would be a valuable asset in a region that has plagued U.S. and international forces for the past eight years. Kandahar is the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, and is still a hotbed of militant activity. Karzai's influence over local tribes, augmented by his brother's place in the presidential palace and with access to security assets, development contracts and American money, would be substantial. As President Barack Obama deliberates signing a new bill that would allow money to be allocated for insurgents that jump the fence and fight on the side of the government, as was done in Iraq's Anbar Awakening, Karzai would be a key point person for mediating between the Taliban and the presidential palace.

Yet the question begs to be asked: If Wali Karzai, had, in fact, been so valuable an asset over the past eight years that his drug running is at best treated with a "don't ask don't tell" policy, why has Afghanistan's situation steadily deteriorated? The Taliban, dismissed by then U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in 2002 as "out of business, permanently," is back in force. Part of that strength comes from a drug trade that has skyrocketed from 185 metric tons of heroin produced in 2001 to over 6000 this year, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. But a larger reason for the Taliban expansion is a widespread and growing frustration with a corrupt, inefficient government. Justice is a fundamental human desire, and if the government fails, or refuses, to deliver rule of law, Afghans will turn to those who have a better track record — no matter how brutal.

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.
New York Times, Oct.28, 2009

Hamid Karzai, of course, routinely dismisses the accusations against his brother, calling them western plots to take down his presidency. He told TIME in a 2008 interview that "For the past five years, allegations have been there, but never have they come to me with proof. My brother can easily be accused to put pressure on me... [He was accused of running drugs] precisely after I refused to allow aerial spraying of poppies." The Times' allegations, coming to light little more than a week before Afghans head to the polls for a runoff vote between Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, will be taken as a sign by the Presidential Palace that foreigners, once again, are meddling with his aims for a second term.

Senator John Kerry, after spending several days closeted with President Karzai while urging him to accept a runoff, and exhibiting perhaps a touch of Stockholm Syndrome, told the Council on Foreign Relations that he had sought information from U.S. intelligence sources about Wali Karzai's alleged drug links, but "nobody has the smoking gun." True perhaps, but if Americans are tampering with that evidence for short-term gain, there probably won't ever be one. Notorious American gangster Al Capone, it must be remembered, was never successfully charged with smuggling, gun running or murder. Eventually of course, he was brought to justice — for tax evasion. Unfortunately, there are no such laws in Afghanistan.

Category: US-NATO, Drugs, Corruption - Views: 6706