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The CIA has been secretly delivering bags of money to Afghan President Hamid Karzai since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. The New York Times broke that story this week. The money is allegedly used to buy loyalty. Well, after the report was published, Karzai acknowledged receiving small amounts of money, and he said he's grateful for it. As NPR's Sean Carberry reports, many Afghans have a very different reaction.
BASHIR BEZHAND: (Foreign language spoken)
SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: It's a scandal and an insult to the people of Afghanistan, said political analyst Bashir Bezhand, speaking to a news anchor on Afghanistan's Tolo TV. He said Karzai should answer publicly for what is likely a crime: receiving tens of millions of dollars in ghost money from the CIA, much of which has gone to family, cronies, politicians and warlords, according to sources who spoke to The New York Times.
Several Afghan senators commented in the local media that Karzai has violated national sovereignty by accepting the cash. But other senators, especially those appointed by President Karzai, say it's not a big deal.
NAJIBA HUSSAINI: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: The foundation of this government is based on foreign aid, says Senator Najiba Hussaini.
HUSSAINI: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: It is financial support to the presidential palace, she says, and such payments are made in mutual agreement between two parties. But most people on the street here in Kabul don't see it that way. This is wrong, says 20-year-old student Mohammad Wali.
MOHAMMAD WALI: (Through translator) It's harmful for Afghanistan because this money is given to the warlords in secret. And it's not clear whether they spend money on weapons or building huge houses for themselves.
CARBERRY: Mohammad Rahman says he's not surprised by the revelation. The 42-year-old shopkeeper sees it as more of the same.
MOHAMMAD RAHMAN: (Through translator) Before, it was leaked that Iran was making cash payments to Karzai. This time, the CIA's support was leaked.
CARBERRY: Karzai has also acknowledged receiving cash payments from Iran. Those payments reportedly stopped when Karzai signed a strategic partnership agreement with the U.S. despite Iranian protests. According to the presidential palace, the CIA money is being used for charitable purposes, but few believe that's the case.
ATIQULLAH BARYALAI: As a president, it's shameful for him to take money directly from an intelligence organization.
CARBERRY: Atiqullah Baryalai is a former deputy defense minister. He says Karzai was using the money to buy loyalty, not to serve the interests of the country. But Baryalai believes the CIA did get some return on its investment.
BARYALAI: In some extent, he kept quiet or kept him on the track with America or CIA.
CARBERRY: But not quiet enough, apparently. Baryalai believes that Karzai's growing criticisms of U.S. and CIA activities in Afghanistan pushed the CIA to leak the story in order to punish the Afghan president. And several Afghan senators have said they believe the timing of the story is suspicious, that it's a conspiracy between the U.S. government and the media to influence the negotiations over a long-term security pact between Afghanistan and the U.S. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.