Thursday, December 02, 2010
WikiLeaks Archive - Afghan Corruption Undercuts U.S. - NYTimes.com
This article is by Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti and Dexter Filkins.
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.” In a seeming victory against corruption, Abdul Ahad Sahibi, the mayor of Kabul, received a four-year prison sentence last year for “massive embezzlement.” But a cable from the embassy told a very different story: Mr. Sahibi was a victim of “kangaroo court justice,” it said, in what appeared to be retribution for his attempt to halt a corrupt land-distribution scheme.
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.
American officials seem to search in vain for an honest partner. A November 2009 cable described the acting governor of Khost Province, Tahir Khan Sabari, as “a refreshing change,” an effective and trustworthy leader. But Mr. Sabari told his American admirers that he did not have “the $200,000-300,000 for a bribe” necessary to secure the job permanently.
Ahmed Zia Massoud held the post of first vice president from 2004 to 2009; the brother of the famous Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, he was discussed as a future presidential prospect. 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, Mr. Massoud 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 earlier this year, a dark blue 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.”
Then again, another cable reports “rumors” that Mr. Shahrani himself “was involved in a corrupt oil import deal.” He denied the rumors, saying that they were inventions by two rivals who were “among the most corrupt in Afghanistan,” the cable said.