Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Corruption and repression in Karzai's Afghanistan

Journalist Arthur Kent, writing from Afghanistan, issues a searing indictment of the pervasive corruption of the Karzai regime.

The sheer scope of fraud within the regime's ministries has caused a collapse of public trust. So much so that Hamid Karzai's corrupt dominion arguably constitutes a greater threat to the long-term security of Afghanistan than anything those back-country no-hopers known as the Taliban are capable of mustering on the battlefield.

Kent offers a dizzying array of examples of corrupt government officials linked to warlords and drug barons. Of particular note is this passage about Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabet:

So is Hamid Karzai's Attorney General really in league with the heroin gangs? It's a question that should interest the government of Canada for at least two reasons. First, heroin profits help finance the Taliban's war effort. Second, Sabet boasts to friends of enjoying residency in Canada: his wife and children live in Montreal. Yet officials in Ottawa - at Foreign Affairs, Immigration and the Prime Minister's Office - have refused since mid-March to confirm the status of President Karzai's rogue Attorney General.

Sabet's past is littered with reasons that he should never have gained entry into Canada, particularly due to his long history of association with the black prince of Afghan extremists, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Sabet was a longtime counsellor to Hekmatyar, once the United States' most-favoured anti-Soviet guerrilla leader, but now on their most-wanted list of terrorists.

But Kent is not the only journalist bringing this mess to light. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting, which hires and trains Afghans to do most of their reporting in that country, offered this summary of the situation in Helmand province:
Corrupt police have been implicated in a wave of lawlessness in Helmand, which is fueling support for the Taleban - who, growing numbers of local residents believe, would restore order to the region.

And by no means is it just Afghans who are fleecing the Afghan population. Reuters cites the head of Afghanistan's central bank:

He gave an example of a current $85 million project to help Afghanistan's fledgling financial sector. Highly paid foreign managers would pocket a large slice of the cash.
"Only 40 percent goes to the project, 60 percent goes to the managers. Out of that 60 percent, perhaps 80 percent goes into the pockets of foreigners. It is going out of Afghanistan," he said.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists and Reporters without Borders have recently both condemned the Karzai government over the illegal arrests of two journalists who criticized the regime. (One of the journalists, Kamran Mir Hazar, has since been released; Asif Nang is still being held.) From the IFJ press release regarding Asif Nang, editor of a government-owned magazine:

The Afghan president was reportedly angered by an article Nang had written titled “Afghanistan as a football between the large oil companies”, and ordered his arrest.

“To hold Nang in detainment without charge is a clear violation of his basic human rights,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

“This is a disappointing move by the Afghan president to suppress information, which will do nothing to dispel the climate of fear and intimidation rampant in the Afghan media community,” Park said.

Nang, who was accused of spying without the proper credentials, is currently being held as a suspect without charge, according to IFJ sources.

Reporters without Borders offers a slightly different explanation for Nang's arrest:
It is thought he is being held for publishing an extract from a Canadian essay critical of President Hami Karzai and not, as initially reported, for suspected spying.

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