A week after we learned that the CIA delivered bags full of cash to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in exchange for his cooperation, the United Kingdom's MI6 admitted to doing the same thing this weekend. While the British spies say they forked over just a fraction of what their American counterparts did, the new information proves that this quasi-bribery scheme was hardly an isolated incident. In fact, it sounds like it was a big part of the allies' operation in Afghanistan. This so-called "ghost money" was evidently a big part of Karzai's peacekeeping strategy, however. The leader called the CIA and MI6 contributions an "easy source of petty cash" for dealing with the Taliban.
It's not a huge surprise that MI6 was in on this whole bags of cash arrangement. The UK is one of America's closest allies in the war, and evidently, this is just how things work over there. Along those lines, Karzai really doesn't want it to stop! "This is nothing unusual," Karzai said after The New York Times broke the news last week. Karzai remains worried that the CIA station chief there will stop the payments. "I told him because of all these rumours in the media, please do not cut all this money, because we really need it." Other Afghan leaders disagree. "Accepting such money is a big insult to Afghanistan," said Hidayatullah Rihaee, a member of the Afghan parliament. "All those who accepted the cash payments have betrayed the nation."
But perhaps the most powerful response to this unsettling news had less to do with corruption or sleazy politics as it did with justice. Qais Akbar Omar, an Afghani writer currently studying in the U.S., published an opinion column in The Times on Saturday under the headline, "Where's My Ghost Money?" The thrust of Omar's argument is simple: If the Afghan government got tens of millions of dollars, no questions asked, what did the people get? Omar then makes a list of very basic things that America promised Afghanistan but never delivered — things like toilets:
When the Americans first came, building sewer systems in every community would have been a good way to put millions of Afghans to work and to help us get back on our feet after three decades of war. … I do not want to make Afghans sound like complainers or beggars, but since the United States has spent more than $100 billion in Afghanistan since Sept. 11 on development projects, and five times that on its military activities, we would have been very happy to have had sewers.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.