In the Arena

Karzai’s Brother

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Just emerged from a press conference featuring Hillary Clinton and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Qureishi. The big news here today involves terrorist attacks in Peshawar, to our northwest, and Kabul. There are 86 dead, so far, in the bombing of a women’s market in Peshawar; seven dead UN workers in Kabul.

There’s been a lot of talk about Pakistani resistance to the Obama Administration’s blandishments, namely a $7.5 billion civilian aid package. But that took a back seat as both Clinton and Qureishi seemed very much aligned in anger today over the attacks. Diplomats aren’t practiced at outrage, but both ministers seemed legitimately infuriated. Clinton used the full three syllables to describe the attacks, “Cow-ard-ly.” She said it twice.

The Secretary of State had no comment about, arguably, the biggest story of the day, the mind-boggling (but somehow unsurprising) N.Y. Times report that Hamid Karzai’s corrupt brother, Ahmed Wali, has been on the CIA payroll for the last eight years. This has been in the wind for a while. And you’ve got to wonder why it has broken now, two weeks before the Afghan presidential runoff.

The most obvious conspiracy theory–and these are rarely right–is that the U.S. has decided to let this news slip now to adversely affect Karzai in the coming election.

A less obvious but, to my mind, more plausible theory is that the U.S. needed to make Ahmed Wali Karzai radioactive so that he could no longer run and ruin Kandahar province as its shadow governor.

Or, it may just be that the Times finally managed to nail a story that more than a few journalists had been pursuing.

And then you have to think about the policy itself: It has its roots in 2001 when the Bush Administration decided that it didn’t want to reconcile with the defeated Taliban, but instead placed its resources behind assorted warlords in the hope that they would bag Al Qaeda’s leadership. Not a bad idea, in principle–classic counterterrorism. But no bad guys were bagged and much poppy cultivation ensued. The CIA’s old idea stands at variance with the Petraeus-McChrystal new idea: counterinsurgency, which posits that U.S. funds should be spent building roads, schools, sewers and creating security for the people.

It will be fascinating to see how this shakes out–not so much in the next few days, as Karzai is likely to express outrage over the story, but in the next few months: Will Ahmed Wali still be on the CIA payroll and corrupting Kandahar after the runoff election is over?