We can’t be sure when it will be, or whether intimidation, bribery and outright warfare will preclude a legitimate result. But one aspect of Afghanistan’s presidential election is shockingly clear: the atmosphere is a dead ringer for politics as practiced by the Kabul government’s Western sponsor nations.
Betrayal, treachery and official duplicity – the race for the Afghan presidency has it all. And not just because upwards of 17 candidates could eventually be in the running against the incumbent, Hamid Karzai.
The most shameless backroom vendettas and intrigues are being conducted by the “internationals” – foreign officials and spies and diplomats, the men who would be king-makers.
True, President Karzai’s tenure has made the Afghan capital safe mainly for war profiteers, carpetbaggers, heroin traffickers and corrupt ministers. But what are the alternatives being groomed by the president’s former sponsors, especially his disaffected patrons in the United States?
U.S. officials have taken to leaking stories about Karzai’s failings – a laughable turnabout, given Washington’s eight-year-long campaign to cover up their client-president’s glaring inadequacies.
Especially galling is a sudden bout of honesty about one of Hamid’s grasping brothers, Mahmoud Karzai. A New York-based reporter recently served up details of Mahmoud’s unbounded greed, which has been common knowledge in Kabul for years, but is now “revealed” with surprisingly frank comments from the Bush administration’s former front-man in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Posturing as a complete innocent, this bombastic Bushite and former U.S. ambassador to Kabul states: “People in business would come to me and complain that Mahmoud always wanted a percentage of the new businesses.”
Khalilzad claims that when he brought this to brother Hamid’s attention, the president shrugged it off – though he grumbled a little about Mahmoud’s corralling of Afghanistan’s Toyota distributorship.
Nice try, Zal.
Among the many things this Pollyanna-like source fails to mention is that he, Zalmay “King Zal” Khalilzad, was effectively President Karzai’s master, tutor and all round brow-beater for years – some would say from 2002 right through to Khalilzad’s recent term as U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
Nothing happened in Kabul without Khalilzad’s knowledge. It is no exaggeration, according to many who know King Zal, to say that Karzai’s failings are Khalilzad’s failings, and those of the U.S. administration.
But Khalilzad is not the only Afghan-American who has suddenly taken to denouncing brother Mahmoud. Another source for the story is Ashraf Ghani, President Karzai’s one-time finance minister, who is set to run in this year’s election for his former boss’s throne.
Ghani claims that he challenged Karzai about his brother's rapacious zeal in exploiting his connections within the fragile Afghan government, asking: “Is this going to be a family enterprise? He (Karzai) said absolutely not. But that is what it has become."
Clearly Ashraf Ghani’s selective memory is wasted on Afghan politics. He could play Washington D.C. with this act.
For starters, Mr. Ghani neglects to mention his own extensive links with the gravy train of U.S. civilian and military aid contracts. In fact, he can claim only one degree of separation from the man he condemns.
Connecting Ghani and Mahmoud Karzai is one of the Afghan American community’s most avaricious scoundrels, Hamed Wardak, the son of the Karzai regime’s Minister of Defence, Rahim Wardak. (See our profile of the millionaire Wardaks on Page 6 of Recent Stories here at skyreporter.com: “Corruption And Cover Ups”, published Nov. 14, 2007.)
Years ago, Hamed Wardak was “discovered” by Mahmoud and Qayum Karzai, two movers and shakers in Washington’s Afghan American community. When Mahmoud founded the Afghan American Chamber of Commerce, he made Hamed Wardak its first vice-president.
At the same time, the young Wardak bagged a second post as adviser to one Ashraf Ghani – with the generous endorsement of who, exactly? None other than Zalmay Khalilzad, who also introduced Hamed to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his staff.
This stellar networking enabled Hamed Wardak to grab yet another job, this time with a D.C.-based contractor, Technologists Inc. (Ti). Within two years, Hamed was boasting that he had secured $100 million in Afghan-related Pentagon contracts for Ti. Throughout this time, which coincided with Ashraf Ghani’s tenure as Finance Minister in Kabul, Hamed Wardak served as Ghani’s “ambassador” in Washington.
Strong links remain. One year ago, Ghani’s associate, Clare Lockhart, hosted Wardak in a public discussion before America’s prestigious Aspen Institute.
Today, Wardak’s current company, NCL, enjoys fat U.S. contracts to build barracks for his father’s Afghan National Army. NCL’s website lists Ashraf Ghani as a founding board member. Wardak, who owns several “security” companies in Kabul, is said to provide Ashraf Ghani with bodyguards whenever the presidential candidate-to-be visits Afghanistan.
Remarkably, this wheeling and dealing and nepotism isn’t threatened by the dawning of the supposedly reform-minded Obama era. Instead, the abuses look set to flourish.
Wardak has sought to ingratiate himself with the new American power structure, donating last year to both the Clinton and Obama campaigns, and to the Obama inauguration fund. As well, he provided “corporate support” to last year’s touring exhibit of Afghan antiquities.
The scheming avarice of the war profiteers would add up to little more than a scandal, were it not for the corrosive effect it has had on the global effort to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan.
As the carpetbaggers amassed their fortunes, most Afghan families fell deeper into poverty. The gold rush nature of this U.S.-dominated phase of the war has contributed to the worsening security situation: greed has eaten away at the Kabul government's legitimacy.
Now the wolves would have their next meal in this year's election, driven by mindless ambition, and uncaring of the consequences for the nation and its people.
Welcome to democracy, as exported by the land of the free.