Who Made Kabul Corrupt?

Pious bromides about tackling corruption in Afghanistan cannot hide the fact that the buck stops in Washington

Afghan intelligence officers beat back Afghan police officers
who mobbed the only branch of Kabul Bank open in the capital on
Wednesday, in a desperate attempt to draw money before it closed for Eid
al-Fitr, the most important festival of the year in Islamic countries.
Eid marks the end of a month of Ramadan fasting and most Afghans spend a
small fortune on food and presents for the holiday.

Most of the
250,000 government employees in Afghanistan receive their salaries via
electronic transfer to Kabul Bank, the country's largest private bank, which is reported to be on the verge of collapse.
Blame has been cast on the biggest borrower - a man named Abdul Hasin,
who was given $100m for a variety of projects which he has not repaid.
Hasin happens to be the half-brother of the vice president of the
country, Mohammed Qasim Fahim.

A little less than a year ago, I visited the heavily guarded headquarters of Abdul Hasin's business conglomerate - Zahid Walid
- in the wealthy Kabul neighbourhood of Wazir Akbar Khan, not far from
the even more heavily fortified US embassy. Neither Hasin nor Fahim were
wealthy when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, but as the de facto
leader of the Northern Alliance, Fahim was perfectly placed to profit
from the new opportunities created by the collapse of the Taliban.

Seddiqui, the managing director of the Zahid Walid's diesel import
business, filled me in on how the business grew: first, a series of
lucrative contracts to pour concrete for a Nato base, as well as
portions of the US embassy being rebuilt in Kabul and the city's
airport, which was in a state of disrepair.

On a plot of land in
downtown Kabul acquired for a pittance by Fahim, Abdul Hasin also
financed the construction of a high-rise building dubbed "Goldpoint",
which now houses dozens of jewelry shops. Soon, the company was
importing Russian gas, and not long after that, Abdul Hasin set up the
Gas Group, which markets bottled gas to households and small businesses.

Beginning in the winter of 2006, Zahid Walid won over $90m in contracts from the Afghan ministry of energy and water to supply fuel to the diesel power plants in Kabul. (I was involved in making a video for Channel 4 investigating the overspending on the Tarakhil diesel plant.)

business deals of Abdul Hasin were legal, but given their apparent
failure, major questions can - and should - be raised about nepotism and
backroom deals cut by the Bush and the Obama administrations in their
drive to combat corruption in Afghanistan. Hasin's epic default hardly
makes him the only businessman whose dealings deserve closer scrutiny -
his business partner is Mahmoud Karzai, brother of the president, who
flipped a house Dubai's Palm Jumeirah with the Kabul Bank's former
chairman, Sher Khan Farnood. Karzai was quoted this week saying: "Making a profit on a house is beautiful."

Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for the national security
council who was recently arrested - then released, at President Karzai's
behest - in a corruption investigation, appears to have been on the CIA
payroll for many years, according to the New York Times, as is Ahmed Wali Karzai, another brother of the president.

What is to be done about these gentlemen? In a report released this week,
Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official who now works at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Titled
"Time to Look in the Mirror", the report correctly notes that low-level
corruption is not the problem:

"Unfortunately, the
worst aspects of this corruption are largely the product of our
mistakes. The fact is that we are at least as much to blame for what has
happened as the Afghans, and we have been grindingly slow either to
admit our faults or to correct them."

There is
absolutely no doubt in the mind of anyone in Kabul that corruption is
endemic among Afghanistan's ruling elite. But who granted the contracts,
put them on the payroll and gave them the money?

So, when are we going to see those CIA and Pentagon officials in Washington DC facing charges?

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