Monday, November 23, 2009

Karzai Livid At Corruption Arrest

Looks like President Hamid Karzai's pledge to fight corruption hit a snag when Afghan intelligence arrested a police chief named "Commander S" smuggling four tons of pot. Wow. According to my very rough calculations, that's $30-35 million worth of marijuana. There was opium involved too, and that should have raised a flag, because it turns out the intelligence officers arrested a key cog in Ahmed Wali Karzai's drug operation, bringing down the wrath of the El Presidente.

President Karzai canceled the press conference announcing the arrest, and it is unclear if he will allow the Attorney General to bring charges. Karzai recently pardoned five convicted drug smugglers connected to his campaign manager. His brother Wali seemed to show little concern that any further investigation would come from the arrest:

“I am powerful because I am the President’s brother,” Ahmed Wali said last week. “This is a country ruled by kings. The king’s brothers, cousins, sons, are all powerful. This is Afghanistan. It will change, but it will not change overnight.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the anti-corruption operation is off to a similarly questionable start. Karzai has deposed his first minister, Sidiq Chakari, the acting Minister for Religious Affairs. The obscure minister was low on the American list, and it seems like his main offense may have been supporting the opposition party in the last election.

Today yielded another brutal article, this time in USA Today, documenting the omnipresence of bribery and corruption. Fact of the day: It costs $400 in bribes to register a vehicle in Afghanistan. That is equal to a year of annual wages for the average Afghan worker. Tough times. As is this story:

Ahmadi admits that "petty corruption is everywhere." He said he paid a bribe of about $400 to have electricity turned on in his home a year ago, right before he took his current job.At the time, he was a top Karzai adviser and warned the utility worker that he could have him disciplined for shaking down a customer. Ahmadi said the worker shrugged off the threat and demanded the money.

It will take more than a few sham arrests to change the culture of corruption in Kabul.

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