Rooting out corruption has to be NATO’s number one priority in Afghanistan, argues Zachary Barker.
On 12th June 2011 Ahmed Wali Karzai (AWK), a key ally of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s mission in Afghanistan was assassinated. His fate was sealed by his own security chief of many years Mohmad Sardar, who shot him at point-blank range in his own home. Recent years in the conflict have seen a rise in such attacks by inside men, usually members of the Afghan National Army and police forces. It is rarer that that such a high level figure is killed at the behest of the Taliban in this way, since these attacks are usually carried out to create fear in the ranks of these forces. It is rarer still that the victim is none other than the President’s half brother. As if to add insult to injury, the Taliban detonated a suicide bomb at AWK’s funeral.
However AWK was not an average high official. Described locally as the ‘President of Kandahar’ AWK wielded a huge level of influence over the city and the province, which dwarfed his official position as chief of the Kandahar Provincial Council. This disproportionate level of influence has often been attributed to him rubbing shoulders with many of the regions power brokers, allegedly not all of them law abiding individuals.
One of these individuals is Haji Azizullah, a known Afghan International drug dealer. AWK was accused by the Afghan Parliament in 2007 of knowing Mr Azizullah well enough to stay in his house rent free in 2001. AWK responded to these accusations somewhat unconvincingly by saying that he had no idea that Mr Azizullah had anything to do with drug trafficking. Shortly after this episode the United States (U.S.) and Afghan leadership decided to quietly exile him to an ambassador post while the heat died down.
The New York Times accused AWK of being a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) asset in a report published in 2009. AWK’s role as an intelligence asset allegedly involved many tasks including keeping a back channel open by which the agency can contact certain members of the Taliban, as a possible prelude to creating a peace settlement. Much more controversially the report cited AWK as helping the CIA recruit and operate the alleged Kandahar Strike Force. This group is believed to be essentially a death squad used to attack suspected Taliban within Kandahar. Needless to say the CIA refuses to confirm these allegations.
What really put AWK in the spotlight of course was his family connection to his half brother, none of other than President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai. Needless to say the President saw many opportunities in having a brother in such a prominent position in one of the most rebellious provinces in the country, as a half brother and a politician. The 2009 Afghan presidential elections were infamous for widespread election rigging activities, much of it thought to be connected to the incumbent President and his allies. Hamid Karzai’s main challenger Abdullah Abdullah boycotted the second run-off vote, citing election rigging activities by the opposition as his main reason for conceding defeat. No province in the country is believed to have been completely free of some form of election fixing, however the allegations once again rest in particular on Kandahar and the so called ‘President’ AWK.
Some disturbing parallels can be cited between the Vietnam War and the conflict in Afghanistan. The US backed South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem was heralded by the US government officially as a stabilising figure. The reality was that both Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu were corrupt and guilty of repressing Buddhists in the country. The US eventually saw him as a liability, and President Kennedy eventually authorised the CIA to back a coup to unseat the troublesome President. Shortly after this both Diem and his brother were assassinated, months before Kennedy’s own assassination.
Whether the allegations against the Karzai’s are true or not there are other considerations. Afghanistan is a largely tribal country, the majority of the population does not rely on media outlets for news. Rumours are powerful forces in the country, they can spread like wildfire. With this in mind talk about corruption at the highest levels of government should justifiably worry NATO. If NATO is to justify to the world its role in the country, then arguably it has an interest in seeing that those it is seeking to defend are held to a high moral standard. As the Vietnam War demonstrated the US is not necessarily against supporting leaders of questionable moral character, or indeed of supporting assassinations. Perhaps Obama would take the same line President Franklin Roosevelt took to defend President Samoza of Nicuragua when it comes to either of the Karzai brothers: “he may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch”.