August 16, 2019
The United States handed bags of cash and awarded ministry posts to the most brutal warlords on earth in Afghanistan during the early post-9/11 era. The United States, for years, looked the other away as the Karzai family and tons of other Afghan government officials transferred millions of dollars into bank accounts in places like Dubai. Yet now, the United States has suddenly had enough: President Ashraf Ghani went too far, apparently, in showing leniency to a fraudster who also happens to be a donor.
Most Afghans certainly have a right to shame Ghani if the reports are true that Khalilullah Ferozi, the official involved in the $1 billion scandal that collapsed the Kabul Bank in 2010, will serve the final year of his sentence at home after donating $30 million to the president’s campaign fund.
However, no US government personnel have this same right – and most know this – so the time and selective nature of the moral outrage that publicly emanated from US Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass over the Frerozi story appears to be a highly cynical move. It is worth looking at Bass’s full condemnation that raged across the Twittersphere.
“Disturbed by reports the #Afghan government requested early release for Kabul Bank fraud perpetrator Khalil Firozy before conclusion of his sentence. Countless Afghans suffered in the past decade because international assistance funds were stolen for personal gain,” Bass said in a Twitter post on Thursday, August 15. “This action, along with the continued failure to execute warrants for those accused of corruption, calls into question the government’s commitment to combating #corruption and making best use of donors’ support.”
This is obviously part of a State Department-driven multi-pronged strategy to undermine and delegitimize Ghani’s government ahead of next month’s elections, which may or may not happen based on the results of negotiations between Washington and the Taliban. Ghani’s government may very well deserve to be undermined yet it is not the place of a foreign meddler to do so.
Under normal circumstances, a typical envoy would raise the issue in a private meeting with Ghani. Most U.S. ambassadors butted heads with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, but they would not blindside him in public so intentionally. Whether we like it or not, Twitter statements are now seen as official government positions.
What makes the reaction even more suspicious is that the United States was likely very well aware of what was going on in the run up to the collapse of the Kabul Bank, as evidenced in a leaked top secret diplomatic cable dated October 19, 2009 sent by US Ambassador E. Anthony Wayne.
“Vast amounts of cash come and go from the country [Afghanistan] on a weekly, monthly and annual basis. Before the 20 August [presidential] election $600m in banking system withdrawals were reported; however in recent months some $200m,” Wayne said in the cable to Washington. “Many other notable private individuals and public officials maintain assets (primarily property) outside Afghanistan, suggesting these individuals are extracting as much wealth as possible while conditions permit.”
Confidential sources, he added, say that couriers primarily use Pamir Airlines, “which is owned by Kabul Bank and influential Afghans such as Mahmood Karzai and Mohammad Fahim who is President Hamid Karzai’s current vice-presidential running mate.”
Hence, the United States knew of Firozy’s shenanigans and did nothing about it. Nobody inside the State Department posted a public complaint slamming Hamid Karzai for his possible complicity in the scheme.
Meanwhile, the United States – itself – was involved with feeding Karzai’s family with bags of so-called “ghost money,” as the New York Times revealed in April of 2013.
“For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president – courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency,” the report said. “The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale.”
The game is straightforward. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is on a mission under strict instructions to strike a withdrawal deal with the Taliban at all costs. On Friday, August 16, President Donald Trump, according to CNN, will meet with security advisers to potentially pull the plug and formally authorize an immediate extraction of at least half of the American troops.
In order to seal the deal, the Americans have to placate the Taliban who refuse to negotiate with Kabul. Hence, Ghani just has very bad timing. A decade ago the United States would be filling his personal coffers with cash. But, amid the new political dynamics in Washington, Ghani is seen as expendable.