As the U.S.-led coalition’s political and military brass mark their tenth Gregorian New Year in Afghanistan, their glasses will be raised more in commemoration than celebration. The occasion is burdened by grief over a mission squandered and lives and resources sacrificed in vain.
Worse, there can be little doubt that tomorrow’s hangover will drag on past Nawroz, the Afghan New Year in March, and indefinitely into the future.
This is the internationals’ penalty for losing control of events in Southwest Asia: the war continues to be good business for all the wrong people.
Contrast that gloom with the triumphalism of the syndicate currently in control of the Presidential Palace in Kabul, otherwise known as Karzai & Company.
“The president and the mafia that surrounds him are joking about the way the Americans and the other embassies have backed down,” one experienced Afghan parliamentarian tells Skyreporter.
The MP isn’t talking about Afghanistan’s roiling constitutional crisis, the parliamentary purgatory created by last September’s election. It’s that other, more pervasive curse that he refers to: the looting of the country’s various economies, legitimate, black and all shades of grey in between.
“Only a few months ago, there seemed to be hope. But the bandits are laughing now, as though they have made the foreigners believe that fighting corruption is more dangerous than corruption itself.”
Significantly, the MP asks to go unnamed. Already on the outs with Karzai over the regime’s attempts to undermine the parliamentary vote, he says he fears criticizing the palace’s obstruction of anti-corruption measures could provoke harsher reprisal by the president’s cohorts.
Meantime Kabul’s embattled investigators, both Afghan nationals and their mentors operating from the capital’s foreign embassies, have little to show for their efforts in 2010.
No significant prosecutions are pending, and there’s a sense that the regime’s most senior suspects, including President Karzai’s brothers Mahmoud and Qayoom, aren’t doing much more than taking a glance over their shoulders from time to time.
This, despite the elder Karzais being U.S. passport holders.
Mahmoud’s pivotal role in the ongoing Kabul Airport currency smuggling scandal is well known to anti-corruption investigators. As revealed here at Skyreporter five months ago, officials have compiled detailed files on the scam, down to the names of some of the couriers.
(See Karzai “Syndicate” Flies The Cash-Rich Skies From Kabul on page two of Recent Stories.)
American diplomatic cables disclosed by Wikileaks confirm several of the key players named in our report. In a cable sent from Kabul on October 19, 2009, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry wrote:
“According to our sources, established couriers primarily use Pamir Airlines, which is owned by Kabul Bank and influential Afghans such as Mahmood Karzai and Mohammad Fahim who is President Hamid Karzai's current vice-presidential running mate.”
Eikenberry continued: “…our sense is the money leaving Afghanistan is likely a combination of illicit and licit proceeds.
“Drug traffickers, corrupt officials, and to a large extent licit business owners do not benefit from keeping millions of dollars in Afghanistan and instead are motivated (due to risk and return-on-investment) to move value into accounts and investments outside of Afghanistan.”
The ambassador’s assessment is in sync with those of investigators, who say that the sheer volume of currency begs any credible claim that such frequent, systematic shipments could be legitimate - in the main much less in total.
Eikenberry included these estimates in his cable:
“While reports vary widely, records obtained from Kabul International Airport (KIA) support suspicions large amounts of physical cash transit from Kabul to Dubai on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis.
“According to confidential reports, more than $190 million left Kabul for Dubai through KIA during July, August, and September (of 2009). Actual amounts, however, could be much larger.
“An official claiming first-hand knowledge recently told the Treasury Attache some $75 million transited through KIA bound for Dubai in one day during the month of July. The primary currencies identified at the airport for these three months include (in declining order): Saudi riyals, Euros, U.S. dollars, and UAE dirhams.”
It was in this cable that Eikenberry first informed the White House and State Department that Mahmoud Karzai’s business partner was likely channeling, if not laundering, vast sums for President Karzai’s closest relatives and associates:
“Sher Khan Farnood, the Chairman of Kabul Bank, reportedly owns 39 properties on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai and has other financial interests spread widely beyond Afghanistan.
“(Note: Many other notable private individuals and public officials maintain assets (primarily property) outside Afghanistan, suggesting these individuals are extracting as much wealth as possible while conditions permit.”
Skyreporter can reveal that Farnood’s list of fronted properties is now said to feature the name of an Afghan notable whose presence in the dodgy banker’s portfolio might explain why U.S. and Afghan investigators are no longer pressing for formal charges to be laid.
The name: Zeenat Karzai, the wife of the U.S.-backed resident of the Presidential Palace in Kabul.
So welcome to 2011, a New Year but the same old, same old for Karzai & Co.