A lightning rod of criticism, Karzai’s brother accused of influence peddling, wrongdoing

By Mirwais Khan, AP
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Karzai’s brother accused of influence-peddling

KABUL, Afghanistan — Allegations of wrongdoing have swirled around Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s half brother for years, but this time they are coming from inside the president’s own Defense Ministry.

The president, who defended his half brother from alleged criminal behavior on Tuesday, is being asked to investigate whether Ahmad Wali Karzai used his powerful sway to help friends and associates use and build profitable projects on government-owned land in a key city in the south.

In a six-page report prepared for Maj. Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazi, the Afghan army commander in the south, the ministry said Ahmad Wali Karzai and other power brokers have taken over nearly 9,700 acres (more than 3,900 hectares) of land in and around Kandahar that are owned by the ministry.

The report says these “irresponsible individuals and land occupiers” have not paid rent or are charging their tenants rent that exceeds what they’re paying the ministry to use the land. As compensation, the ministry wants Kandahar officials to give it an equal amount of land.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report.

Regardless of whether the allegations against him are true, Ahmad Wali Karzai, 48, has become a political liability for President Karzai, a symbol of cronyism and a lightning rod for criticism of all that is wrong with his administration.

And his critics, including some in the international community, say he is standing in the way of efforts to set up an effective government in Kandahar, where U.S., NATO and Afghan forces are ramping up security to rout the Taliban from their spiritual birthplace. The political dispute only adds to the problems in Kandahar where insurgents have responded to the military operation by killing government officials and others seen as allies of those seeking change.

Ahmad Wali Karzai, who has denied the allegations, is head of the Kandahar provincial council.

When asked about his half brother at a news conference at the palace, President Karzai said that for five years he has sought proof of the alleged misdeeds. So far, the accusers have failed to bring him evidence, he said.

“Once they said he had links to smugglers,” the president said. “This is a very serious issue if the president’s brother has links to smugglers.”

The president said that at his half brother’s suggestion, he wrote letters to the U.S. Embassy asking for evidence, and that his foreign affairs adviser had also talked with European officials.

“During the last five years — 20 to 25 times — I have asked them, but finally they told us that they have nothing against him and that these are all rumors,” Karzai said.

“They have made life very difficult for him there. Unfortunately no one can eliminate rumors and no one can bring evidence, so Ahmad Wali is a sacrifice there.”

Ahmad Wali Karzai reacted in anger to the accusations in the report. He vowed not to conduct any council business or attend any council meetings until the ministry apologizes or proves the allegations. The provincial council is asking the president to send a delegation from Kabul to investigate the claims.

“They are blaming me for land mafia, but they don’t have any evidence,” Ahmad Wali Karzai said earlier this week. “If they have proof, they should show it. If not, they should apologize. Until that time, I’m not coming to the provincial council.”

In its report, the Defense Ministry identified 16 properties it says are owned by the government. The ministry said one tract is now occupied by 290 shops and four hotels which were built and later sold by one of Ahmad Wali Karzai’s relatives. The report said Ahmad Wali Karzai’s associates are occupying another piece of land once used by the Afghan National Army.

It said the president’s half brother allegedly instructed the ministry to give the land to the people, including some who have posted “For Sale” signs in an effort to sell the land.

A senior defense official in Washington said that top NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal recently conducted a thorough review of Ahmad Wali Karzai’s activities and that while there was considerable suspicious behavior there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Gen. Mike Flynn, the intelligence chief on McChrystal’s staff, recently invited Karzai’s half brother for a talk at the international coalition’s headquarters in Kabul, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to publicly disclose the information. Flynn told Ahmad Wali Karzai that the coalition’s review of him didn’t reveal any criminality, but the international force would be keeping a close eye on him, the official said.

Mirwais Khan reported from Kandahar. Associated Press Writer Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.

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