STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Throughout our program this morning, we're looking at the shakeup in the American military command in Afghanistan and what it could mean for the war effort. President Obama picked General David Petraeus as his new commander in Afghanistan. In his announcement, the president stressed the need to remain focused on the mission there.
INSKEEP: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been reporting on that mission. He's in the southern province of Kandahar. Afghanistan's government is widely considered to be corrupt and in need of fixing.
One man in Afghanistan, in fact, has become a symbol of that corruption. He's the half-brother of the president and the most prominent political figure in southern Afghanistan. Tom met with him and has this report.
TOM BOWMAN: For years Ahmed Wali Karzai has been accused of profiting from the narcotics trade, stealing government land and threatening rivals. We stopped Ahmed Wali Karzai during a conference of top Afghan and American officials at a building called the Mandigak palace. It's anything but palatial - all concrete and glass - but it's where Kandahar's council meets. And Ahmed Wali Karzai is the leader of the council and the center of attention.
Mr. AHMED WALI KARZAI (Chairman, provincial council, Kandahar): I know the international community is putting all the focus on me. I know all the cameras are on me.
BOWMAN: I spoke with the president's brother about the latest controversy that's put him in the camera's eye. American officials say he expanded his security detail - taking 100 Afghan soldiers for himself when there's little security for residents of Kandahar.
Ahmed Wali Karzai says the troops were assigned to him.
Mr. KARZAI: I am the most wanted person by the Taliban. I have nine suicide attacks against me. Seven suicide attackers once entered my compound. Can you imagine if more than 30 people are blown up to small pieces? I'm under lots of pressure. And I am protecting my family and myself.
BOWMAN: Now when anybody calls up a story about Ahmed Wali Karzai, the one word you see is corruption. American officials went to you and said we're watching you.
Mr. KARZAI: No, no, no. That's absolutely... No one has ever distrusted me in my own country. And if anyone has any evidence of corruption or whatever you call it, please they should bring it over.
BOWMAN: U.S. officials say they have plenty of evidence though admit most of it's circumstantial. Just last month, though, there appeared to be harder evidence. Afghanistan's Defense Ministry accused him of profiting from a land-grab scheme. The land was later turned into office parks and housing developments. Ahmed Wali Karzai says the investigation was one more political attack on him.
Mr. KARZAI: It was all based on rumors and based on - they didn't even go to the area. Do you want to go now? I can take you now to see it with your own eyes. I will give you a bulletproof car with guards.
BOWMAN: You profited from that land.
Mr. KARZAI: Not a penny from it. I have nothing to do - those are Afghan-American who live in the United States that are doing this project. I have nothing to do...
BOWMAN: The report was done by lower level people.
Mr. KARZAI: Absolutely.
BOWMAN: And they just (unintelligible).
Mr. KARZAI: Yeah. This is all politics.
BOWMAN: He might be right, it could all be politics. Afghanistan's defense minister disavowed his own report this week. Still, American officials are looking to find an alternative to the president's brother. They're trying to nudge aside Ahmed Wali and build up the political power of Kandahar's provincial governor. His name is Tooryalai Wesa.
He's a onetime college professor from Canada who returned to his native Kandahar City. One NATO general says the measure of success here will be when the line in front of Governor Wesa's office is longer than the one in front of Ahmed Wali's office.
They seem to want to gently brush you aside and build up Governor Wesa. Is that fair?
Mr. KARZAI: He's already built. I mean, I don't know what do you want from Governor Wesa. To build Governor Wesa is to build his office. He has to have more qualified people around him.
BOWMAN: No matter how much the Americans would prefer to work with the governor, they still have to deal with the president's brother. Ahmed Wali is simply too powerful. And the Americans may have themselves to blame, at least in part. American officials admit that Ahmed Wali Karzai has profited from U.S. contracts - trucking, security, renting space to U.S. forces. Now U.S. military officials are reviewing how contracts are awarded, trying to make sure that American tax dollars don't end up in the pockets of power brokers.
Ahmed Wali denies he's benefited from U.S. contracts.
Mr. KARZAI: I swear on my children that since I - that I haven't signed a single contract with Americans. Anyone can bring one contract that I have benefited from. All the contracts done by U.S. military I have nothing to do with it - very simple.
BOWMAN: And with that, the interview was over. We thanked Ahmed Wali for his time. He walked away, across a wide atrium in the palace, every few steps someone stopped to shake his hand, to speak with him, to ask a favor. In Kandahar, Ahmed Wali Karzai is still the man to see.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Kandahar, Afghanistan.
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