On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother to Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai, is on the Central Intelligence Agency payroll. While the explanations are not expressly damning (C.I.A. and U.S. Special Operations forces rent a compound from him, and often use him as an intermediary to communicate with the Taliban), it's clear how the news will be received in the region. Theories that Afghanistan is a puppet state of the West are confirmed. Rumors that Hamid Karzai's interests rest with American hegemony are bolstered. And it exacerbates a "crisis of confidence" in the Afghanistan government, as experienced by the Afghan people and described by General Stanley McChrystal in his Commander's Initial Assessment. It is, by every measure, a catastrophe for the Karzai administration. And it comes a week before runoff elections strong-armed by the United States.
Ahmed Karzai isn't just a crony governor of a failing state in a spiraling war. He's the opium kingpin of Afghanistan, the Pablo Escobar of the Hindu Kush. According to General McChrystal, the war cannot be won so long as the illicit opium trade remains unfettered. ISAF has spent eight years torching everyone else's poppy fields, and yet, it seems, Ahmed Karzai has a C.I.A. paystub and a free pass. A U.S. official tells the New York Times, "There's no proof of Ahmed Wali Karzai's involvement in drug trafficking, certainly nothing that would stand up in court." The only thing missing is a wink and a knowing smile.