Washington Babylon — January 1, 2009, 9:11 pm

Our Man in Kabul

From the New York Times:

Kept afloat by billions of dollars in American and other foreign aid, the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. From the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.

A raft of investigations has concluded that people at the highest levels of the Karzai administration, including President Karzai’s own brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, are cooperating in the country’s opium trade, now the world’s largest. In the streets and government offices, hardly a public transaction seems to unfold here that does not carry with it the requirement of a bribe, a gift, or, in case you are a beggar, “harchee” — whatever you have in your pocket.

I interviewed Patricia Gossman about the situation in Afghanistan early last year. Her comments were remarkably prescient:

In 2004, at the time of the presidential election, he [Karzai] was fairly popular. Hopes were high then that the situation would turn around, that even if reconstruction was slow, it was going in the right direction. That’s not to say anyone saw him as a savior–far from it. As one Afghan friend of mine put it: “It’s like you have a job interview and you discover every shirt in your closet is dirty. What do you do? You wear the least dirty one. That’s Karzai.” But since then, as Karzai has shown little interest in backing reform efforts he had originally claimed to support. He has embraced some of the worst officials, appointing well-known torturers to high police positions, relying on other abusive and corrupt leaders for support. It’s all about patronage, it’s all personal, and the international community shares the blame.

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