“I assure you President Karzai understands the problem. We are confident he’s doing all he can to address it.”
Those were the soothing words of Canada’s former ambassador to Afghanistan in May of 2007.
Over tea at Kabul’s Serena Hotel, Arif Lalani was singing from the same song-sheet reporters found waiting for them at the U.S. and British embassies in Kabul.
The “problem” was corruption, the burgeoning criminality within the Western-sponsored Karzai regime that, even three years ago, was undermining any semblance of legitimate governance in Afghanistan.
As we know now, the Afghan president was only too aware that his brothers and closest political allies were up to their necks in criminal enterprise.
By 2007 the looting of Kabul Bank by a syndicate led by shareholders Mahmoud Karzai, Sherkhan Farnood and Khalil Fruzi was already underway.
The richest of Afghanistan’s 17 banks has been used as a cash cow by the regime’s strongmen, not least by Hamid Karzai and his closest supporters, who last year used the syndicate’s cash to help finance the president’s fraud-ridden re-election campaign.
Shamefully, some Western officials are still trying to pass off the Kabul Bank episode as crony capitalism. But the related assets controlled by Karzai, Farnood and Fruzi, such as Pamir Airways and Khurasan Security, speak to the probability of a wide range of felonies.
Prominent among these is the industrial-scale smuggling of raw currency, as reported here two weeks before the Kabul Bank crisis gained worldwide coverage (see Karzai 'Syndicate' Flies The Cash-Rich Skies From Kabul in Recent Stories).
So far, stories in the mainstream media about the bank’s incipient failure have focused on the $160 million in “loans” skimmed off by Karzai, Farnood and Fruzi and squandered in Dubai’s real estate bubble.
That scam, however, is likely just a fly on the elephant’s back, considering the estimated $5 million to $10 million per day taken from the vaults of Kabul Bank and spirited by couriers under armed guard into the cabins of Pamir Airways’ 737s, en route to the Gulf.
Karzai’s foreign sponsors deserve much of the blame for these outrages. Western powers have monitored the regime’s dark tendencies, and many of their intelligence agencies have aggravated Kabul’s culture of graft by doling out bribes to Karzai’s cronies for information.
Diplomats like Canada’s Lalani were only following orders.
His boss, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, insisted from the start of Canada’s combat mission in 2006 that his officials stick to the script coming out of the White House under George W. Bush: the Kabul regime’s flaws were to be covered up at all costs.
Whether it was the embezzlement of Western tax dollars intended for Afghan police salaries, the massaging of troop numbers in the Afghan National Army or the complicity of Karzai’s top lawmen in smuggling through Kabul Airport, reporters’ queries were met with deflection, denial and disinformation.
The false reasoning was that coming clean about Karzai’s faults would weaken the U.S.-led war effort. So goes the logic of blowback.
Now corruption has become the definitive strategic weakness in the West’s military initiative, and Hamid Karzai revels in it.
He mocks his foreign benefactors openly, exploiting issues like collateral killings, private security firms and threatened burnings of the Koran to maximize the internationals’ embarrassment.
Meantime, he blocks investigation of his palace cohorts, and is even calling for U.S. taxpayers to cover Kabul Bank’s losses. As betrayals go, Karzai’s is second to none for extravagance.
Yet it’s his own people who suffer most, trapped as they are in a 32nd consecutive year of warfare.
While the Karzais count their fortunes in the hundreds of millions, two-thirds of the Afghan people exist in absolute poverty, or just above the poverty line. Corruption is the leading cause, according to the U.N.
The Karzai network’s response?
In this month’s elections, the president and his ruling circle are grasping at unrivaled control of parliament, a hammerlock on what little remains of the country's struggling democracy.
Once again, black currency stands to warp the outcome, shunting the interests of ordinary Afghans even further into the wilderness.
It’s cold comfort that Afghanistan’s supposed Western saviors are already waiting there, undone by their own leaders’ faithless incompetence.
All of which Karzai & Company will continue to take to the bank...