Classifieds | Archives | Jobs | About TGT | Contact | Subscribe
Last updated 2 minutes ago
Printer Friendly Version | TGT@Twitter | RSS Feed |
Sarah Chayes: CIA buys trouble in Afghanistan
May 04, 2013
 Print    Send to Friend

In a time when the whetted and arbitrary deficit-reduction knife is cutting bone out of critical US government programmes, the image of shopping bags stuffed with CIA cash handed off on a monthly basis to Afghan President Hamid Karzai—who reigns over one of the most corrupt governments on the planet—has outraged many Americans.

The New York Times, which revealed the years of payoffs this week, noted that “there is little evidence the payments bought the influence the CIA sought.”

In fact, regular cash handouts of this type may do the opposite. They may well have enabled Karzai’s frequent and theatrical outbursts against the US officials and policies, not to mention his collusion with some of his country’s most corrupt and abusive officials. Such payoffs signal to Karzai— or other leaders like him—that he enjoys the unwavering support of the CIA, no matter what he does or says, and embolden him to thumb his nose at the United States whenever he feels like it.

Karzai’s relationship with the CIA is believed to long predate the tense days in late 2001 when CIA officers joined him and his followers in the mountains north of Kandahar as the Taliban regime was falling.

In a 2003 conversation, the most renowned commander of anti-Soviet resistance fighters in southern Afghanistan, where I lived at the time, told me that in the late 1980s Karzai introduced him to CIA officials so he could obtain some of the all-important Stinger missiles that helped the Afghan fighters neutralise Soviet helicopters. The US support of the anti-Soviet resistance was covert. Very few Afghans had direct contact with the CIA. Most received US money or military equipment by way of Pakistani intermediaries. Karzai, according to this commander, was one of the early exceptions.

Given this long relationship with the CIA, Karzai may believe that the agency somehow represents the true voice of the US government. Indeed, the competing and often contradictory exhortations and demands transmitted by ambassadors and special envoys who come and go, the successive commanders of international forces with their different approaches, the congressional delegations who troop through his office, even secretaries of state or defence, must start to sound like a lot of cacophonous noise to the man on the receiving end. Amid the din, CIA money can ring a clear note.

The tendency to read CIA signals as conveying the “real” intent of the US government is not limited to Afghan leaders. In his book The Arab Center, for example, former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher describes a tense episode in 2004 when Jordan was promoting a broad-based Arab initiative to break the deadlock in the Middle East peace process.

A meeting between President George W. Bush and King Abdullah II was hanging in the balance, with the king awaiting the result of fraught negotiations between Muasher and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice over the contents of a letter of intent from Bush to Abdullah. A full day of talks resulted in a mutually agreeable formulation.

But in the meantime, a CIA official had been speaking back channel with Jordan’s intelligence chief, waiting on the West Coast with the king; the CIA official urged the delegation to fly home to Jordan, and it did. In the end, the advisers concluded that it was the CIA, not the national security adviser, that really counted in the US government, and the Middle East peace process remained stalled.

In Karzai’s case, CIA payments, against a backdrop of jangling dissonance, may allow him to choose which messages to take seriously —usually the ones he likes. Or to play some US actors off against others, as he recently did by subjecting Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel to public humiliation while courting Secretary of State John Kerry.

Many Afghans I know had assumed for years that the CIA was doling out cash to Karzai. Even so, the US media expose has made waves, providing evidence for what had only been suspected.

“No wonder he talks so badly against the United States,” one friend said, summarising the reactions he’d heard. “The cash, on top of everything else America has done for him, just proves how desperately you need him. It means he can do anything.”

This can hardly be the only time the CIA has covertly paid off key foreign leaders, with little if any co-ordination with other US decision-makers and little understanding of the repercussions. Such activities amount to an independent foreign policy, lacking connection to any concerted plan, and too often conflict with the US government’s wider priorities. It is time, in this as in other domains, to inject some accountability and oversight into CIA operations.


Add this page to your favorite Social Bookmarking websites
Post a comment
Related Stories
Accidental Afghans
For centuries, the nomadic Kyrgyz people travelled freely across Central and South Asia, fording rivers and cutting across snow-capped mountains with their herds of lives..
Rakesh Sood: Afghanistan on a slow fuse
The attack by the Taliban gunmen at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul last weekend was a grim reminder of the deteriorating security environment in Afghanistan. The sie..
US bombs with a vengeance
A strike by the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the US military killed 36 Daesh militants and left no civilian casualties, hitting a tunnel complex in t..
Kim Sengupta: Implications of Taliban leader’s death
The end of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the head of the Taliban, in an American drone strike is a killing of great significance violently highlighting the shifting dynamics of ..
Michael Jansen: No happy ending
US-led Nato troops ended their combat mission in Afghanistan last Sunday, leaving security in the uncertain hands of Afghan forces at a time the Taliban has gone over to ..
Advertise | Copyright