By Claire Truscott (AFP) – Nov 28, 2010
KABUL — Leaked US documents on Monday painted President Hamid Karzai's controversial younger brother as a corrupt drugs baron, exposing deep US concerns about graft undermining the war against the Afghan Taliban.
Internet whistleblower WikiLeaks has started to release quarter of a million confidential US diplomatic cables, detailing embarrassing and inflammatory episodes in what the White House has condemned as a "reckless and dangerous action".
Ahmed Wali Karzai has long been dogged by allegations of unsavoury links to Afghanistan's lucrative opium trade and private security firms.
But as a powerful figure in Kandahar, where US forces are leading the fight to break a nine-year Taliban insurgency, Western officials have kept quiet in public on the president's younger half brother's tainted record.
Leaked cables from the US embassy in Kabul now reveal their true feelings in moves that could complicate already strained relations between Washington and Karzai at a key juncture in the war.
"While we must deal with AWK (Ahmed Wali Karzai) as the head of the provincial council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker," said one note that followed a meeting between the president's brother and US envoy Frank Ruggiero in September 2009.
Of the meeting itself, the report said Karzai "dressed in a crisp white shalwar kameez and pinstriped vest, appeared nervous, though eager to express his views on the international presence in Kandahar."
Kandahar is a make-or-break battleground in the US-led fight to defeat the insurgency, where the United States has poured in thousands of extra troops to wrest the initiative from the Taliban and bolster the Afghan government.
In May, British Major General Nick Carter, then NATO commander in southern Afghanistan, had said that he hoped Karzai -- chairman of the legislative council -- would cede power to the governor of the province, Tooryalai Wesa.
Afghanistan is ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world, where official graft undermines public support for the Western-backed government and is believed to help fuel support for the Taliban insurgency.
"The meeting with AWK highlights one of our major challenges in Afghanistan: how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt," the report acknowledged.
In the 2009 meeting with American and Canadian officials, the president's brother urged the allies not to fund small-scale cash projects -- a cornerstone of its counter-insurgency strategy -- but to build large mega-projects instead.
"Given AWK's reputation for shady dealings, his recommendations for large, costly infrastructure projects should be viewed with a healthy dose of scepticism," the report said.
"We will continue to urge AWK to improve his own credibility gap," said the report.
Karzai, who also runs his own private militia in the province, is reported to have said the plethora of independent security firms run by different men in the region should be brought under the control of one man.
The cable noted: "AWK is understood to have a stake in private security contracting, and has aggressively lobbied the Canadians to have his security services retained."
The report said that both Karzai and Wesa had tried to influence the awarding of contracts in the province.
Karzai also showed disdain for democratic elections in the region, the report said, insisting that local elders were better placed to provide governance for the area.
In a second meeting in February, Karzai told Ruggiero that he was willing to take a polygraph test to prove his innocence over claims of his involvement in the opium trade.
"He appears not to understand the level of our knowledge of his activities, and that the coalition views many of his activities as malign, particularly relating to his influence over the police," said the cable.
"We will need to monitor his activity closely...."
President Karzai has another brother, Mahmood Karzai, a former restaurant owner in the United States who is being investigated for tax evasion, according to a report in The Washington Post last month.
The Afghan government gave no immediate comment over the leaked documents.
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