Report: Afghan President's Brother On CIA Payroll
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Ever since the U.S. entered Afghanistan in 2001, there's been a recurring question: Where to find a reliable partner. Many of the country's most powerful figures have tainted pasts. They've been warlords or involved in corruption or drugs. The New York Times today reports that the CIA has been making regular payments to Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger brother of President Hamid Karzai. Ahmed Wali Karzai is a controversial character. And we'll hear why from Mark Mazzetti, one of the Times reporters who wrote the story.
Mr. MARK MAZZETTI (New York Times): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Now, Wali Karzai is the head of Kandahar's provincial council. So he has political power. But he's widely regarded in Afghanistan as powerful in a different way. More, you might say, like a Mafia don.
Mr. MAZZETTI: Yeah, he's called by some the King of the South. He is the most powerful figure in southern Afghanistan. He's also been alleged by some in the U.S. government and many in Afghanistan as being linked to Afghans' booming opium trade. It's the biggest industry in southern Afghanistan and people, many people believe that he has ties and enriches himself from the drug trade.
MONTAGNE: And so then why would he be valuable to the CIA?
Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, he has, as I said, a fair amount of political power, but he also is able to use his contacts with people associated with the Taliban and people who might be useful for the U.S. as they try to peel away Taliban from the central part of the militia towards the Karzai government. So they believe that he might be an important liaison. And in fact he has been for years in working for the CIA to do any manner of things - besides working as a Taliban liaison, also working to sort of organize militia forces to take on the Taliban.
MONTAGNE: But it is a pretty shocking idea that the CIA would use Wali Karzai given his reputation. Does the CIA deny this?
Mr. MAZZETTI: The CIA did not comment for the story. We spoke to current and former intelligence officials who, you know, point out that for one thing there is no, as they say, hard evidence tying him to the drug trade, that nothing could hold up in court and that there is circumstantial evidence - however, it's not ironclad. But also, they say, you know, listen, this is Afghanistan. We have to work with people to carry out a broader counterinsurgency mission. Every key figure in Afghanistan has some ties to the drug trade or might have some kind of an unsavory past. So if you use that standard, then we really can't work with anyone.
MONTAGNE: And Wali Karzai has said to the New York Times that he is indeed connected with the CIA?
Mr. MAZZETTI: He says he receives payments from his brother for expenses. But he denies even knowing anything about specifically CIA payments. So he says he works with Americans but he says he's not on their payroll.
MONTAGNE: How does this factor into the strained relations between the U.S. and President Karzai?
Mr. MAZZETTI: It makes things very complicated, and there's certainly a dispute right now within the Obama administration over the propriety of this kind of relationship, because on one hand U.S. officials are pressing Hamid Karzai to clean up his government and get rid of corruption in Afghanistan. At the same time you have another part of the U.S. government paying the brother of the president who many allege is one of the more corrupt people in Afghanistan. So it may think - it makes some people think that these calls by the U.S. are really ringing hollow.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. MAZZETTI: Sure. Thanks for having me.
MONTAGNE: Mark Mazzetti is a reporter for the New York Times.
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