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.
When Senator John Kerry announced an unexpected runoff between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, it became very clear that Karzai was on the chopping block. Yes, the August elections were rife with violence, corruption and voting irregularities, but this was expected by anyone who could locate Afghanistan on a map. Given the recent surge in violence, increased U.S. troop casualties, and emboldened Taliban forces, is there any reason to expect things will go better next month?
Before Ahmed Karzai's ties to the C.I.A. were revealed, the election appeared to be a needless risk to U.S. troops tasked with providing security and political cover for a vacillating president. Now it appears to be a calculated method of executing a bloodless coup.
In 1963, Ngo Dinh Diem had been in power in South Vietnam for nine years. The Kennedy administration inherited him from Eisenhower. Former Secretary of State John Dulles called Diem "the best available man." Diem's leadership was ever tenuous, his successes promoted beyond their merits, his failures epic in scope. In the end, however, it was his oppressive and corrupt brother that proved his undoing, and the Kennedy administration sanctioned a C.I.A. coup that found Diem and his brother in the back of an armored personnel carrier, and on the business end of semi-automatic rifles.
How the Company has evolved. These days, they reveal allies carefully cultivated, but no longer desirable, to be U.S. stooges, and engineer elections.
By leaking a connection between the C.I.A. and the Karzai family, the United States has given tacit approval for regime change in Afghanistan. If Karzai is ousted by Abdullah Abdullah, the Obama administration can claim a tabula rasa - a new general, a new plan, and new diplomacy with a new government. It is, in a sense, good news for supporters of McChrystal's plan. But if Karzai survives the runoff, he would be well advised to move his desk away from any windows, and not expect much latitude from the United States.
It is now very obvious that the Kerry negotiations were carried out in bad faith.
Hamid Karzai should act where Diem did not, by quickly distancing himself from his brother - starting, at the very least, by removing him from power. And the United States should explain to the world why shamelessly exposing classified intelligence to manipulate a free election is beneficial to a fledgling democracy, or to the war on terror.
The C.I.A. missed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein's incursion into Kuwait, September 11th, and Iraq's dearth of weapons of mass destruction, but they're back to doing what they do best: putting a knife in an ally while patting itself on the back.
If he's reelected, Hamid Karzai might want to avoid armored personnel carriers.