Afghanistan’s problems can’t be solved by bribing President Karzai

By Philip Giraldi
May 7, 2013
The American Conservative

The New York Times is reporting that the CIA has been paying Afghan President Hamid Karzai millions of dollars every month. The money, which Karzai has acknowledged and described as an “easy source of petty cash,” does not go directly to the president but instead is delivered in bundles of $100 notes via bags or even suitcases to the presidential office, where it is distributed by the Afghan National Security Council. That an intelligence service just might try to put a foreign head of state on the payroll should not necessarily surprise anyone, though why that should be done with a basket case client state like Afghanistan might raise some disturbing questions about the real nature of the sometimes fractious bilateral relationship. What is apparently more concerning to the Times is the implication that much of the money has been invested by the Karzai government in buying the loyalty of warlords, who, ironically, have done so much to weaken the authority of Karzai’s own central government. As bags of cash are quite fungible, some money likely even found its way into the hands of the Taliban further down the food chain, suggesting that U.S. tax dollars are being used to fund the insurgents who are killing American soldiers.

But looking at the situation from Karzai’s perspective it is necessary to reckon with the fact that he will be an ex-president after elections in April 2014 since he cannot run again. What power he currently enjoys will go to whoever replaces him, possibly a hand-picked successor but equally possibly someone who does not like him very much. If Karzai wants to maintain his viability in Afghanistan and protect his interests he has to have his own powerbase and he is doing that in the time honored Afghan fashion by working with tribal and local power brokers. So no one should be surprised that Karzai regards the CIA cash, which he refers to as “ghost money,” as a gift from Washington that he can use to buy the personal loyalty of regional heavyweights and ensure both his future relevance and his safety.

From the CIA point of view, the money being given to the president’s office is a pittance relative to the cost of the war. Assuming that Karzai is not being completely frank with his State Department interlocutors, a likely assumption, having another channel to him might be regarded as not only desirable but essential. It would give Washington an extra seat at the table in the Afghan presidential office. The income stream is also an inducement for the Karzai administration to be cooperative on issues that are considered to be vital. And the moves by Karzai to create his own political powerbase independent of his office would also be regarded as a plus by Langley as it could suggest that he might continue to be a viable source or even an agent of influence for years to come.

Read more