PARIS - Not so long ago, Hamid Karzai, the US-installed president of Afghanistan, used to be hailed by Washington and the US media as a noble democrat and statesman.
But as things in Afghanistan went from bad to worse, and Taliban gained strength and popularity, Washington directed its ire at Karzai, who had almost no power of his own and was forced to rely on the US, the Tajik-Uzbek-Communist Northern Alliance, and assorted drug-dealing warlords.
After some of Karzai’s henchmen become over-zealous in rigging Afghanistan’s last already rigged election, Washington exploded in anger and frustration, blaming its wayward puppet for the growing mess in the Hindu Kush.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was sent to Kabul last week like an angry super-nanny to give Hamid Karzai a sound spanking for being such a corrupt bad boy.
Just as Karzai’s second inauguration ceremony was getting under way, Mrs. Clinton commanded Karzai reduce rampant corruption in Afghanistan so Washington could justify sending more troops. Karzai had recently suffered similar public humiliation from visiting US Senator, John Kerry.
Mrs. Clinton, we recall, was the former first lady of Arkansas, a state whose high ethics and good governance stands as a model of probity to third world miscreants.
Perhaps she brought election monitors from Chicago, where the dead regularly rise to vote for the Democratic Party machine. From Ohio, where funny voting machines allegedly helped George Bush win re-election, or from those bastions of Athenian democracy, New Jersey and Florida. They have so much to teach wayward Afghans about clean politics.
Like nearly all third world nations, Afghanistan is corrupt. But compared to his western critics and accusers, poor Hamid Karzai is a mere beggar in the Kabul bazaar.
For example, take Britain’s indignant prime minister, Gordon Brown, who imperiously commanded Karzai to root out corruption.
PM Brown knows about corruption. It was Imperial Britain, after all, that gave rise to the delightful African term for bribery, `the white man’s handshake.’
Three years ago, Exchequer Chancellor Brown and boss Tony Blair quashed Britain’s biggest ever criminal investigation by its Serious Fraud Office into accusation the British arms firm EADS paid over 2 billion pound sterling of secret contract kickbacks to high Saudi officials, one of whom was a close associate of the Bush family. The European Union even rebuked Britain for its `tolerance of corruption.’
France’s president, Nicholas Sarkozy, also blasted Karzai over corruption. Sarko’s rebuke came right after a major judicial investigation of three thieving but useful African dictators who had stashed away billions of swag in France was quashed – at Sarkozy’s orders, claimed the opposition.
One of the parties, Teodorin Obiang, son of the dictator of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, recently spent $35 million on a Malibu, California mansion and $33 million on a private jet. Another, Gabon’s late Omar Bongo, is said to be France’s single largest property owner. Wags in Paris call the chic Avenue Victor Hugo, the `Avenue Bongo.’
Next, Transparency International, a respected NGO monitoring state corruption, published its annual honesty survey. It was an eye-opener.
New Zealand was named the world’s least corrupt nation. Canada was eighth most honest, and least corrupt nation in the Western Hemisphere. Hats off to Canada.
Embarrassingly, the United States ranked a miserable 19th. The report noted, `the US Congress is most affected by corruption.’ Mark Twains described Congress as, `America’s native criminal class.’
Western Europe and Japan were way ahead of the US. America’s ally Israel ranked a sorry 32nd. Other US Mideast allies had awful scores, but the Gulf emirates Qatar and the UAE, came in way ahead of the rest of the Mideast in honesty– including Israel.
An important Los Angeles Times investigation reports hundreds of millions of dollars, a full third of CIA’s foreign budget, has been going in payoffs to Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI.
American `black’ programs deliver more tens of millions to Pakistan’s ruling People’s Party and leader, Asif Zardari, known to all Pakistanis as `Mr. 10%,’ and other senior Pakistani politicians, generals, and media figures.
Critics are now calling Pakistan, `Rent-a-Stan.’
Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, has been dogged for decades by serious corruption charges. He denies them and claims they are all politically motivated. Benazir Bhutto told me her husband was the victim of political persecution.
Adding to the pressure on Zardari, his own legal officials released a shocking list of 8,000 politicians and officials, many from his own People’s Party, who had benefited from an amnesty for past corruption and other serious crimes. Included on the list were Zardari and his strongman, Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
The amnesty was engineered by the US and former dictator Pervez Musharraf in an effort to fashion joint rule between Benazir Bhutto and the then discredited Musharraf. Most of the pardoned criminals hailed from Sindh Province, the home of Zardari’s People’s Party.
The US has given Pakistan more than $15 billion over the past eight years to support the Afghan War, not counting huge bounties for capturing or killing suspected enemies, and `black’ payments.
In Iraq, some estimates say $10 billion delivered to that nation’s US-installed regime are missing. American `contractors’ and large corporations in Iraq are accused of gargantuan fraud. Pallets of US $100 dollar bills vanished into thin air. And on it goes.
Ironically, across the Muslim world, the same western powers scourging Karzai are seen as major sources of corruption, keeping repressive regime in power by buying dictators, generals, and politicians.
Many Afghans support Taliban because it is seen as an enemy of corruption and an enforcer of justice, however harsh. In Palestine and Lebanon, Hamas and Hezbullah enjoy wide popularity and respect for the very same reason.
The Transparency report finds, to no surprise, that places like Somalia, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the world’s most corrupt nations. But it must be remembered that citizens of these benighted nations pay no income taxes. So each government official levies his own little personal taxes. What we call corruption is inevitable and normal.
President Karzai will of course establish an anti-corruption commission. Some big turbans will be prosecuted to please Washington. But this charade will fool no one but US voters.
Most Afghans see Karzai as a US puppet. But maybe the exasperated puppet will turn on his string-pullers, open real peace talks with Taliban, and demand the USA and its allies pull their occupation army out of Afghanistan. That, of course, could very well be a life-ending gamble for Karzai.