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Dec 2nd, 2010


Cables Depict Heavy Afghan Graft, Starting at the Top

WikiLeaks: Scale of Afghan corruption is overwhelming


President Hamid Karzai, center, and one of his vice presidents, Ahmed Zia Masoud, right, who was later accused of taking millions out of Afghanistan. Kabul, Afghanistan, July 28, 2004. (Photo credit: Ahmad Masood / Reuters via The New York Times)

By Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti and Dexter Filkins

December 2, 2010

Excerpts

WASHINGTON — From hundreds of diplomatic cables, Afghanistan emerges as a looking-glass land where bribery, extortion and embezzlement are the norm and the honest man is a distinct outlier.

Describing the likely lineup of Afghanistan’s new cabinet last January, the American Embassy noted that the agriculture minister, Asif Rahimi, “appears to be the only minister that was confirmed about whom no allegations of bribery exist.”

One Afghan official helpfully explained to diplomats the “four stages” at which his colleagues skimmed money from American development projects: “When contractors bid on a project, at application for building permits, during construction, and at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.” …

It is hardly news that predatory corruption, fueled by a booming illicit narcotics industry, is rampant at every level of Afghan society. Transparency International, an advocacy organization that tracks government corruption around the globe, ranks Afghanistan as the world’s third most corrupt country, behind Somalia and Myanmar.

But the collection of confidential diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to a number of publications, offers a fresh sense of its pervasive nature, its overwhelming scale, and the dispiriting challenge it poses to American officials who have made shoring up support for the Afghan government a cornerstone of America’s counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

The cables make it clear that American officials see the problem as beginning at the top. An August 2009 report from Kabul complains that President Hamid Karzai and his attorney general “allowed dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court.” The embassy was particularly concerned that Mr. Karzai pardoned five border police officers caught with 124 kilograms (about 273 pounds) of heroin and intervened in a drug case involving the son of a wealthy supporter.

The American dilemma is perhaps best summed up in an October 2009 cable sent by Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, written after he met with Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s half brother, the most powerful man in Kandahar and someone many American officials believe prospers from the drug trade.

“The meeting with AWK highlights one of our major challenges in Afghanistan: how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt,” Ambassador Eikenberry wrote. …

Ahmed Zia Massoud held the post of first vice president from 2004 to 2009; the brother of the Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, he was discussed as a future president. Last year, a cable reported, Mr. Massoud was caught by customs officials carrying $52 million in unexplained cash into the United Arab Emirates.

A diplomatic cable is not a criminal indictment, of course, and in an interview Mr. Massoud denied taking any money out of Afghanistan. “It’s not true,” he said. “Fifty-two million dollars is a pile of money as big as this room.” Yet while his official salary was a few hundred dollars a month, he lives in a waterfront house on Palm Jumeirah, a luxury Dubai community that is also home to other Afghan officials. When a reporter visited the dwelling this year, a Rolls-Royce was parked out front.

The cables describe a country where everything is for sale. The Transportation Ministry collects $200 million a year in trucking fees, but only $30 million is turned over to the government, according to a 2009 account to diplomats by Wahidullah Shahrani, then the commerce minister. As a result, “individuals pay up to $250,000 for the post heading the office in Herat, for example, and end up owning beautiful mansions as well as making lucrative political donations,” said Mr. Shahrani, who also identified 14 of Afghanistan’s governors as “bad performers and/or corrupt.” …

The cables lay out allegations of bribes and profit-skimming in the organization of travel to Saudi Arabia for the hajj, or pilgrimage; in a scheme to transfer money via cellphones; in the purchase of wheat seed; in the compilation of an official list of war criminals; and in the voting in Parliament.

Dr. Sayed Fatimie, the minister of health, told diplomats in January that members of Parliament wanted cash to confirm his appointment. “Expressing shock at the blatancy of these extortion attempts, Fatimie said MPs had offered their own votes and the votes of others they could purportedly deliver for $1,000 apiece,” a cable said. …

The widespread corruption is made possible in part by a largely unregulated banking infrastructure and the ancient hawala money transfer network that is the method of choice for politicians, insurgents and drug traffickers to move cash around the Muslim world.

Last year, a cable signed by Ambassador Eikenberry said that the hawala favored by the Afghan elite, New Ansari, “is facilitating bribes and other wide-scale illicit cash transfers for corrupt Afghan officials” and providing financial services to narco-traffickers through front companies in Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates. He asked Washington to send more investigators and wiretap analysts to assist nascent Afghan task forces that were examining New Ansari. …

Months later, when the New Ansari investigators carried out a predawn raid on the house of a top aide to President Karzai whom investigators heard soliciting a bribe on a wiretap, Mr. Karzai intervened to release the man from jail and threatened to take control of the anticorruption investigations. In November, the Afghan government dropped all charges against the aide.

The resulting standoff between Kabul and Washington forced the Obama administration to take stock of its strategy: was trying to root out corruption, at the risk of further alienating Mr. Karzai, really worth it? And with American troops set to begin leaving Afghanistan next summer, and the American public having long ago lost the appetite for nation-building, was trying to root out corruption a Sisyphean task? …

Read the full story at The New York Times

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Related reports

Read more at The New York Times

Comprehensive coverage by The Guardian

English-language coverage by Der Spiegel

WikiLeaks.org

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Related reports on this site

Image: U.S. President Obama and Afghan President Karzai make statements during a joint news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai hold a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, May 12, 2010 (Photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

WikiLeaks: U.S. Security Threats (Nov. 28, 2010)

Spiral of Violence in Afghanistan (Nov. 23, 2010)

Afghanistan Strategic Thinking (Sept. 25, 2010)

Colin Powell on Afghan Policy (Sept. 20, 2010)

Run on Bank in Afghanistan (Sept. 2, 2010)

Colossal Taxpayer Waste in Iraq (Aug. 29, 2010)

WikiLeaks: Grim View of War (July 26, 2010)

Concerns Grow About Afghan War (July 17, 2010)

Tough Days Ahead in Afghanistan (May 13, 2010)

Obama Rolls Dice on AfPak War (Dec. 2, 2009)

Afghanistan in ‘Downward Spiral’ (Oct 10, 2008)

Afghanistan: The 8-Year War (Oct 7, 2009)

Afghanistan “Mission Failure” (Sept. 21, 2009)

———

FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — December 2, 2009

Obama Rolls Dice on AfPak War

Image: President Barack Obama speaks to reporters after his meeting with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, left, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari
President Barack Obama speaks to reporters after his meeting with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, left, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, D.C., May 6, 2009. (Photo credit: Charles Dharapak / AP)

One year ago today, I reported that President Barack Obama held an uncertain hand in his high-stakes gamble in the fight against Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with weak partners in both countries, doubts about the speed of building up Afghan security forces, and allies reluctant to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the fight.

———

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — December 2, 2008

Iraq ‘Biggest Regret’ – Bush


U.S. soldiers secure the area of a car bomb after it detonated close to the police academy on Palestine Street in central Baghdad, Dec. 1, 2008, killing 15 and wounding 45. (Photo credit: Ali Yussef / AFP — Getty Images)

Two years ago today, on Dec. 2, 2008, I reported that President George W. Bush said the biggest regret of his presidency was flawed intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, adding that he was unprepared for war when he took office.

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12 Responses to “Breathtaking Afghan Corruption”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Violence Ahead of Afghan Review Says:

    [...] Breathtaking Afghan Corruption (Dec. 2, 2010) [...]

  2. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » 2010 Review of Afghanistan War Says:

    [...] The 2010 White House assessment of Afghanistan war strategy made no direct reference to the corruption that plagues Afghanistan’s government or the fractured relationship between the Obama administration and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. [...]

  3. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Run on Bank in Afghanistan Says:

    [...] Breathtaking Afghan Corruption (Dec. 2, 2010) [...]

  4. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Neverending U.S. War Price Tag Hits $4 Trillion Says:

    [...] Breathtaking Afghan Corruption (Dec. 2, 2010) [...]

  5. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Afghan President’s Brother Assassinated Says:

    [...] Breathtaking Afghan Corruption (Dec. 2, 2010) [...]

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    [...] Breathtaking Afghan Corruption (Dec. 2, 2010) [...]

  7. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » U.S. Taxpayers Help Fund Killing of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Says:

    [...] Breathtaking Afghan Corruption (Dec. 2, 2010) [...]

  8. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Senseless Waste of U.S. Taxpayer Dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan Says:

    [...] Breathtaking Afghan Corruption (Dec. 2, 2010) [...]

  9. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Many Veterans Sour on Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Says:

    [...] Breathtaking Afghan Corruption (Dec. 2, 2010) [...]

  10. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Afghan War ‘Not Worth Fighting’ Says:

    [...] Breathtaking Afghan Corruption (Dec. 2, 2010) [...]

  11. Immelman vs. Bachmann » Blog Archive » Military Deaths in Afghanistan Update — August 2012 Says:

    [...] Over time, Obama’s administration has grown weary of trying to tackle Afghanistan’s seemingly intractable problems of poverty and corruption. The American people have grown weary too. [...]

  12. Immelman vs. Bachmann » Blog Archive » ‘No One Really Cares’ — 2,000 U.S. Military Deaths in Afghanistan Says:

    [...] Over time, the Obama administration has grown weary of trying to tackle Afghanistan’s seemingly intractable problems of poverty and corruption. The American people have grown weary too. [...]

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