Afghanistan’s biggest private bank — founded by the Islamic nation’s only world-class poker player — celebrated its fifth year in business last summer with a lottery for depositors at Paris Palace, a Kabul wedding hall. Prizes awarded by Kabul Bank included nine apartments in the Afghan capital and cash gifts totaling more than $1 million. The bank trumpeted the event as the biggest prize drawing of its kind in Central Asia.
Less publicly, Kabul Bank’s boss has been handing out far bigger prizes to his country’s U.S.-backed ruling elite: multimillion-dollar loans for the purchase of luxury villas in Dubai by members of President Hamid Karzai’s family, his government and his supporters.
The close ties between Kabul Bank and Karzai’s circle reflect a defining feature of the shaky post-Taliban order in which Washington has invested more than $40 billion and the lives of more than 900 U.S. service members: a crony capitalism that enriches politically connected insiders and dismays the Afghan populace.