Monday, August 10, 2009

"Karzai should see this as 'Godfather II'..."

"You got to get out of the business and go legit."

That's what one UN official had to say about the Afghan president's familial links to drug trafficking and other forms of criminality, as related by the excellent Elizabeth Rubin in yesterday's New York Times Magazine. More:

Yet on every trip I’ve made to Kandahar, I have heard another story about Ahmed Wali and drugs. Some of the people who have recounted the incidents are now dead. Like Malim Akbar Khakrezwal, an elder of the Alakozai tribe. In 2006, he took me around the fertile lands of his district, which are now infiltrated by Taliban. He told me that when he was provincial-intelligence chief, he captured 1,400 kilograms of opium belonging to Jan Muhammad, then governor of Uruzgan and a very close friend of the president. Jan Muhammad told Akbar to release the opium, and he refused. “My brother called me and said, ‘We are not able to fight these big people,’ ” Akbar told me. “ ‘We are weak. Release them.’ So I went to Ahmed Wali and said: ‘You are my commander; what should I do with this opium? Should I give it back to Jan Muhammad?’ ‘Yes. Give it back,’ he said. Twenty days later I was released from my position.” Last year he was assassinated.

A Western intelligence official who has spent much of the last seven years in Kandahar and, for obvious reasons, wanted to remain anonymous, told me: “The Karzai family has opium and blood on their hands. They systematically install low-level officials up to provincial governors to make sure that, from the farm gate, in bulk, the opium is moved unfettered. When history analyzes this period and looks at this family, it will uncover a litany of extensive corruption that was tolerated because the West tolerated this family.”

Perhaps. Or not. As many Afghans have pointed out, U.S. history is full of robber barons and of families who made their fortunes during Prohibition, and in the words of Ashraf Ghani “turned very decent as families.”

The article's already been linked by a bunch of people, but I'm highlighting it here in case you've missed it. In the midst of all this talk about strategic re-assessment in Afghanistan, and with the 20 August presidential election looming, we might ought to give a little consideration to how our horse (?) is being perceived by his own (myriad) constituency/ies, right?


  1. Kinda OT, but kinda not:

    FP has a new AfPak 'channel' (blog). It says that it is about the 'war for South Asia.'

    It's a WAR FOR SOUTH ASIA now? Good grief.

  2. Madhu, it's a War for South Asia in the same way the wars in West Africa really weren't disconnected in the 1990s, nor the ongoing violence in and around Congo.

    These are regional conflicts, pitting many state and non-state actors for control of resources, populations, currents of ideology, etc.

    Historians tend to call OIF the "Third Persian Gulf War." I rather like that, too, because it brings to focus the reality that there's a history here; that's it is a regional problem; and that it includes a wide range of actors, not just the US and Iraq.