After years of denial and deception, one of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s ministers has finally admitted that Kabul Airport is a bleeding wound of corruption.
Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal has confirmed estimates by U.S. officials that an estimated $10 million per day is smuggled through the airport. And that’s just cold hard cash: no one has dared to place a dollar figure on the amount of heroin that takes flight from Kabul each day.
Predictably, Zakhilwal and his patrons from Washington have failed to explain exactly how this key transport hub, just a short drive from the U.S. Embassy, was allowed to fall under the sway of Afghanistan’s cash-swamped heroin Khans and their accomplices in high office.
The truth is that American officials, like their counterparts at Kabul’s other foreign embassies, watched the scandal as it unfolded, literally on their doorsteps, and did nothing about it - as detailed by Skyreporter.com in regular dispatches since March of 2007.
Worse, many of the “internationals” went to considerable lengths to conceal the problem.
Counter-narcotics efforts at the airport were thrown into chaos in October of 2006 with the dismissal of the respected chief of border police, Gen. Aminullah Amerkhel.
Accusations against him by the Karzai regime’s then-Attorney General proved groundless. But in the meantime, smuggling went into overdrive and drug busts at the airport plummeted, from five or six per week on Amerkhel’s watch to only one a month. (Please see our Afghan Heroin series, from page 39 of Recent Stories.)
Karzai’s Interior Minister of the time, responsible for policing, refused to comment. It was the same story at the U.S. Embassy, the State Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency. DEA agents in Kabul and Washington failed to reply to repeated phone inquiries. British and Canadian officials stonewalled Skyreporter’s queries, too.
While the regime and its foreign sponsors obscured the truth, Afghanistan’s heroin trade literally took flight.
In May of 2007, quite by accident, one bust exposed the sinister scope of Kabul Airport’s dirty secrets (see Afghan Heroin Discovered En Route To Canada on page 29 of Recent Stories).
At the airport’s main gate, a pair of Afghan cops stopped a courier van for a routine check. Lifting the hatchback, they were greeted by a familiar, pungent smell.
Before them were six carpets, bundled and bound. The cops worked their fingers through the weave. Sure enough, each rug contained granules of pure heroin, sewn and knotted into the yarn.
In all, the estimated 18 kilos were worth as much as $1.8 million. Cut to 40% purity, the haul might generate $6 million in the West. There was a waybill attached: the rugs were prepaid to Toronto via Dubai, with sender and recipient clearly marked.
Canada’s then-Ambassador to Kabul, Arif Lalani, did not return telephone queries about the bust, nor did the Prime Minister’s office or Foreign Affairs in Ottawa. The RCMP responded to an email, but refused to comment.
We followed up with the airport policemen two months later, and were told that the confiscated rugs had been turned over to officers working out of the Karzai government’s Ministry of Interior. There, they had vanished – with no further investigation.
The policemen were certain where the heroin-laden rugs had gone: “back with the people who shipped them.”
A year later, in 2008, President Karzai was forced to fire both the Attorney General who triggered the airport policing scandal, Abdul Jabar Sabet, and Interior Minister Zarar Muqbul. Both men are candidates for investigation by the current Attorney General, Ishaq Aloko, whose list of upcoming prosecutions awaits Karzai’s signature.
Gen. Amerkhel has been vindicated, with his record declared clear by both Aloko and Karzai. He is now security chief at the Ministry of Education.
Only this week, however, three long years after the scandal broke into public view, comes the admission by Afghan and U.S. officials of Kabul Airport’s role in bankrolling lawlessness -- and the Taliban’s war effort.
Not so remarkably, half a world away in Canada, another controversy has shed light on the role played by members of the U.S.-led coalition.
Leaked emails that were originally sent from Kabul in 2007 by senior Canadian diplomat, Richard Colvin, currently an intelligence officer posted to Washington, include this revealing query to the head of Canada’s Afghan Task Force:
“What credibility can the embassy bring to bear on counter-narcotics when we do not even have a single dedicated officer? Because of under-staffing, we are unable to process the very heavy flow of information and intelligence, resulting in critical information gaps about key issues and personalities.”
Colvin’s Conservative government masters have responded by attacking his credibility, particularly over his reports on the abuse of prisoners by Afghanistan’s security service, the NDS. The politicians’ harsh criticism has triggered a backlash by a group of 35 former Canadian ambassadors, who’ve sprung to Colvin’s defence.
Public servants, they say, must be free to tell their bosses the truth, not simply what they want to hear -- which of course cuts to the chase about the entire international mission to Afghanistan.
From Kabul Airport and the corruption-plagued Karzai regime, to the strategic threat posed by the Taliban’s safe-havens in Pakistan, the U.S. and its allies have been guilty of defaulting to information control, instead of seeing the challenges of Southwest Asia for what they really are, and rising to them.
Now we’re to believe more of the same – more troops, more Karzai and more P.R. – will turn things around.
Kabul’s smugglers know where to put their money. It’s still flowing through Kabul airport, a five-minute drive from Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s desk.