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{{date|December 4, 2010}} {{Afghanistan}}

Corruption in the government of Afghanistan stretches to the president, Hamid Karzai, who, according to one cable, ordered the intimidation of the most senior official involved in Taliban negotiations.
Image: Paul Morse.

Some of the most senior Afghanistan officials are engaging in corrupt and illegal activities including stealing humanitarian assistance, leaked documents reveal. The files, released by Wikileaks, disclose the United States ambassador to the country became aware in December last year government officials and law enforcement commanders were involved in a "criminal enterprise masquerading as public administration."

One document, seen by Wikinews, states the "consistency and scope of explicit and detailed allegations lends veracity to charges that pervasive corruption defrauds the people of meaningful government services and significantly undermines popular support for the Afghan government." The cable was written a short time after the presidential election in the country, which was dismissed by former Afghanistan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah as "corrupt".

The cables allege senior officials have attempted to divert wheat shipments provided by the World Food Program, run by the United Nations to be sold on the black market. One district governor was arrested attempting to sell a shipment of wheat, but a more senior official ordered he be released. The charity has said in the past wheat feeds "vulnerable people in Afghanistan who really need our help" describing the impact it has as "critical."

Corruption in the government of the country stretches to the president, Hamid Karzai, who, according to one cable, ordered the intimidation of the most senior official involved in Taliban negotiations. In one dispatch it is reported he was accused by his own ministers of partaking in criminal activity. Karzai allegedly pardoned five border policemen arrested after it was discovered they were transporting over one hundred kilograms of heroin in a government vehicle. According to one cable, "some members of the president's family had been receiving money from those seeking the pardon and release of convicted traffickers". Furthermore, a cable in 2009 stated the president "allowed dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court."

Another cable discloses the then-vice-president of Afghanistan, Ahmad Zia Massoud, was allowed through Dubai International Airport carrying $52 million. He was stopped and questioned by airport officials, but was allowed through customs even after refusing to specify the origin or the destination of the money. "According to confidential reports, more than $190 million left Kabul for Dubai through [ Kabul International Airport ] during July, August, and September [2009]. Actual amounts, however, could be much larger," the document warns.

Cquote1.svg [Usamni and his associates] routinely embezzle government funds and international aid money intended for public administration and humanitarian assistance Cquote2.svg

—Leaked cable discussing governor of Ghazni, Mohammad Usman Usmani

Senior Afghanistan governors are reported in the cables to be stealing public funds for their own purposes. The governor of Ghazni, Mohammad Usman Usmani, allegedly embezzled government money which was meant to pay security officers to protect polling booths at the presidential election. In the cable, then-ambassador to Afghanistan Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr. comments: "Considering the general lack of security in these districts, with the exception of Ghazni City and parts of Qarabagh, and our assumption that little or no voting actually took place there on election day, we doubt there were any [security officers] working in these districts in the first place."

Vice-president of Afghanistan Ahmad Zia Massoud was allowed through security at Dubai International Airport carrying $52 million.
Image: Imre Solt.

Usmani, the cables say, "has long been running a chromite smuggling operation into Pakistan from mines in Zanakhan District, as well as Wardak and Logar Provinces, sending his personal security force to escort trucks carrying chromite so they can pass Highway One checkpoints without inspection." In addition, Ricciardone writes, Usmani and his associates "routinely embezzle government funds and international aid money intended for public administration and humanitarian assistance. According to [an unnamed informant], the governor receives 1.4 million Afghanis per month for administrative and representational expenses, but pockets it; additionally, he allegedly received kickbacks from vendors for official purchases."

One informant, whose name is censored in the document to protect his identity, told Ricciardone that, in 2005, Afghanistan officials had specified an area of land outside Ghazni where a settlement where refugees would be able to build a home. "The commission divided the land up into four large sections, each consisting of many small plots. Two of the sections are on a hill and are generally undesirable as real estate, while the other two sections are flat land nearer Ghazni city and ideal for building and development. Most of the land in the flat sections was given to government officials, their relatives—some of whom were minors, and fictitious refugees. Allegedly, they were later sold for profit." Furthermore, the chief prosecutor for the area did not act after sending a team to investigate the matter.

In another cable, sent in December 2009, governor of Paktia Province, Juma Khan Hamdard, is described as "detrimental to the future of Afghanistan." In the document, it is alleged he is the "central point of a vast corruption network involving the provincial chief of police and several Afghan ministry line directors." The cable on Hamard continues to say that, during a protest against him in May 2007, troops under his command "shot at demonstrators in the Uzbek town of Shibirghan, killing thirteen and injuring more than thirty." According to the cable, while requests have been made for him to be arrested, no action has been taken.

Hamard has been accused of "soliciting bribes from contractors by having contractors arrested at job sites and held until the bribes are paid." He is, the cable states, allegedly "an active member" of radical Islamic political party Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin. Hamard reportedly has connections with insurgents across Afghanistan, along with contacts Pakistan and Iran. The cable adds: "Evidence collected in the case points to corruption involving U.S. funds and actively undermining [the government of Afghanistan's] counter-insurgency policy ... Hamdard and his accomplices allegedly act with complete impunity, blatantly placing themselves above the law."

In 2008, British MP David Davis criticized the Afghanistan war, saying the British Army were defending a regime "corrupt from top to bottom."
Image: Steve Punter.

Corruption has long been present in Afghanistan. Writing in The Independent in 2008, British MP David Davis criticized the Afghanistan war, saying the British Army were defending a regime "corrupt from top to bottom." He wrote: "While the President's brother faces accusations of being a drug baron, some three-quarters of the Afghan National Police actively steal from the people. The irony is that Afghan expectations of government are traditionally low, and their faith in President Hamid Karzai was initially high. The government appears to have been run for the financial benefit of 20 families."

Cquote1.svg Even more disturbing, the beneficiaries of this corruption are old-time warlords and faction leaders responsible for past atrocities. Today, they operate with impunity, even over acts of violence and attempted murder. Cquote2.svg

David Davis MP

"From the allocation of mineral rights to the awarding of contracts, ministers frequently intervene to favour families and friends," Davis added. "Even more disturbing, the beneficiaries of this corruption are old-time warlords and faction leaders responsible for past atrocities. Today, they operate with impunity, even over acts of violence and attempted murder. Many public officials, from police chiefs to governors to ministers, have acquired multi-million dollar fortunes in office."

The same year, Thomas Schweich, a former coordinator for counter narcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan at the U.S. State Department, alleged in The New York Times that Karzai's administration was intentionally obstructing U.S. efforts to halt the trade of opium because the president fears losing political support. "While it is true that Karzai's Taliban enemies finance themselves from the drugs trade, so do many of his supporters," Schweich said. "The fighting is unlikely to end as long as the Taliban can finance themselves through drugs, and as long as the Kabul government is dependent on opium to sustain its hold on power ... Narco-traffickers were buying off hundreds of police chiefs, judges and other officials. Narco-corruption went to the top of the Afghan government." Karzai rejected the allegations, and said his government was actively fighting trade of the drug.

In March 2009, several months before the cable labelling the Afghanistan government a "criminal enterprise masquerading as public administration" was sent, a senior aide to Barack Obama said the country was unstable largely because of the corrupt police force, which, he said, is “an inadequate organization, riddled with corruption." Richard Holbrooke made the remarks at a summit in Brussels. “They’re the weak link in the security chain,” he said. “We have to figure out a way to increase the size and make them better at the same time.”

Ricciardone concludes one cable with a stark warning about the future of Afghanistan. "On their own, dismayed provincial law enforcement and judicial institutions are clearly unwilling and incapable of dealing with the scope of corruption they face ... Senior government officials act with impunity; minor officials use bribery and political influence to avoid prosecution," he says. "Should we not quickly develop mechanisms to root out the current corrupt practices and take a firm stand in Ghazni where corruption is rampant, corrupt government officials will be emboldened and the population further alienated."


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