Afghan President Hamid Karzai has admitted that officials from his government had been receiving bags of cash ‘totalling five hundred, six hundred or seven hundred thousand of Euros once or twice a year’. The latest incident of the kind occured in August this year during Karzai’s visit to Tehran when a bag of cash was given to Umar Daudzai, Karzai’s chief of staff and his most trusted confidant.
At the same time, Karzai denied any wrongdoing in the incident saying it was fully transparent and a part of official Iranian aid that had been going on for years.
Still, the White House expressed its deep concern over a possible ‘negative influence’ Iran may have on the processes in Afghanistan. White House spokesman Bill Burton urged Iran to play a more positive role.
There is little surprise in a report that the Afghan government is getting cash from any source it can. Afghanistan, even receiving billions of foreign aid, still remains among the poorest nations of the world. The level of corruption in that country is unprecedented and corruption has crawled up to the highest strata of Afghanistan’s power pyramid. The recent accusations of Hamid Karzai’s eldest brother Mahmoud are one small but very significant example.
It is enough to walk for half an hour along the worn-out and rugged streets of Kabul to see a number of lush new buildings rising in the midst of dirty and decayed clay huts. And this means that there are some people who know how to make money out of the scarce resources this poor country possesses. There are basically only two: drug trafficking and foreign aid.
As a former EU Ambassador to Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell said commenting on the news of bags of cash being presented to Afghan officials, the practice of receiving cash donations was far from unusual. "Many governments that hope to court influence are paying and providing money to the president's office in what I would call a slush fund. This has been going on since the very beginning, and the Americans are very much in the vanguard. So I'm not surprised the Iranians are doing it."
So why are the Americans so eager to accuse Iran of bribing Afghan officials if they themselves ‘are in the vanguard’, according to Vendrell?
In fact, in the case of Afghanistan Iran could be a naturalally of the US. It has always been a strict opponent of the Taliban and supporter of the most powerful anti-Taliban force inside Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance – partly due to ethnic reasons (the Northern Alliance was comprised mostly of ethnic Tajiks, i.e. an ethnic group closely related to Iranians), and partly due to ideological and political reasons – the Shia Iran needed a strong opposition to the extremist version of Sunni Islam represented by the Taliban. Iran is worried by the terrorist groups finding safe haven in Afghanistan and its neighboring countries no less that the US. Iran is also worried by the growing poppy cultivation and drug trafficking from Afghanistan.
But of course, the US would never recognize Iran as an ally – even if it comes to containing the terrorist and extremist threat coming from Afghanistan. Hence the present level of suspicion.
And that is also the reason why Western media have grasped this incident to wage a new wave of anti-Iranian propaganda. In fact, while the US and NATO are mostly bombing Afghan villages, Iran is doing a not so highly visible but much more important work of building roads and infrastructure objects in Afghanistan. By pointing to a set of separated incidents of bribery the West is trying to diminish the Iranian role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
But what is probably even more important, is the fact that transfers of bags of cash signify a complete failure of the international community to establish a strong and reliable government in Afghanistan. It looks as if Karzai and his clan fully realizes that he is a temporary ruler in this war-rigged country, and as such he and his associates use any opportunity to secure a comfortable life once they are gotten rid of – either by the West or by Afghans themselves. When this will happen, no one knows for sure, but everyone including Karzai himself knows for sure that sooner or later this will happen. Since money does not smell, it makes little difference for Karzai where it comes from, and he is ready to accept it from the US, from Iran or whoever.