day 5: Afghanistan, Karzai and Iran,
a tale of corruption
by New York Times:
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.
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 cables lay out allegations of bribes and profit-skimming in the organization of travel to Saudi Arabia forthe 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.
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.
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?
In September, President Obama acknowledged the dilemma. “Are there going to be occasions where we look and see that some of our folks on the ground have made compromises with people who are known to have engaged in corruption?” he asked. “There may be occasions where that happens.”
by New York Times:
The portrait of President Hamid Karzaiof Afghanistan that emerges from a cache of confidential American diplomatic cables obtained byWikiLeaks and made available to a number of news organizations reflects his trajectory from the eager leader anointed by the West to an embattled politician who often baffles, disappoints or infuriates his official allies.
Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, the retired Army officer who became the American ambassador to Afghanistan in April 2009, was blunt about his criticisms in a July 2009 cable. “It remains to be seen whether Karzai can or will refrain from this ‘blame America’ tactic he uses to deflect criticism of his administration,” he wrote. “Indeed, his inability to grasp the most rudimentary principles of state-building and his deep seated insecurity as a leader combine to make any admission of fault unlikely, in turn confounding our best efforts to find in Karzai a responsible partner.”
Mr. Karzai’s plunge in global opinion, as documented in the cables, almost directly mirrors the fortunes of the United States and its NATO allies in Afghanistan.
His relationship with the United States, the cables show, has been one of constant support and reassurance from the United States that it would remain in Afghanistan even after its troops withdrew, but also relentless pressure on President Karzai to follow an American agenda, whether on relations with Pakistan, counternarcotics or corruption. The friction points include his half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, whom, the cables show, Western officials suspect of benefiting from drug trafficking, charges Ahmed Wali Karzai denies.
There are no cables available from 2010, as Mr. Karzai’s relationship with the West has become even more strained: in a speech this spring, he threatened to join the Taliban.
by New York Times:
It was one of the most provocative assertions to emerge from the WikiLeaks cache — a diplomatic cable from this past February confidently describing the sale of 19 missiles to Iran by North Korea that could give Tehran the ability to strike Western Europe and Russia.
While there are a range of opinions about the details of the weapons sale and the readiness of the missiles, what most American officials appear to agree on is that at the very least North Korea sold a number of ballistic missile parts to Tehran in 2005.
The sale set off alarms in Washington, because the parts were for BM-25 missiles, a weapon with powerful engines that — if deployed by Iran — could bolster Tehran’s ability to strike far beyond the Middle East, State Department cables show. Many experts say the BM-25 has undergone no flight testing either by North Korea or Iran, and they note that traditionally it takes a dozen or so tests over several years to perfect a missile and prepare it for military deployment.
On the other hand, NATO last month agreed to establish an antimissile shield and has invited Russia to take part, suggesting growing concern in Europe of an Iranian missile threat.
American intelligence officials do not believe that Iran has yet mastered the technology to put a nuclear warhead on top of a missile. But the most detailed discussion about the missile is contained in a cable from Feb. 24 of this year, which describes the disagreements between American and Russian officials about the missile.
The cable shows that American officials firmly believed that Iran had obtained 19 of the missiles from North Korea, and that there was direct evidence of the weapons transfer.
The sad thing about these wiki leaks is that the people of the Middle East will never be able to personally react to them, to hear the true accounts of their government’s corruption.
My heart welps for them.