In a time when the whetted and arbitrary deficit-reduction knife is cutting bone out of critical U.S. government programs, the image of shopping bags stuffed with CIA cash handed off on a monthly basis to Afghan President Hamid Karzai — who reigns over one of the most corrupt governments on the planet — has outraged many Americans.
The New York Times, which revealed the years of payoffs this week, noted that “there is little evidence the payments bought the influence the CIA sought.”
In fact, regular cash handouts of this type may do the opposite. They may well have enabled Karzai’s frequent and theatrical outbursts against U.S. officials and policies, not to mention his collusion with some of his country’s most corrupt and abusive officials. Such payoffs signal to Karzai — or other leaders like him — that he enjoys the unwavering support of the CIA, no matter what he does or says, and emboldens him to thumb his nose at the United States whenever he feels like it.
Karzai’s relationship with the CIA is believed to long predate the tense days in late 2001 when CIA officers joined him and his followers in the mountains north of Kandahar as the Taliban regime was falling. In a 2003 conversation, the most renowned commander of anti-Soviet resistance fighters in southern Afghanistan, where I lived at the time, told me that in the late 1980s Karzai introduced him to CIA officials so he could obtain some of the all-important Stinger missiles that helped the Afghan fighters neutralize Soviet helicopters. U.S. support of the anti-Soviet resistance was covert. Very few Afghans had direct contact with the CIA. Most received U.S. money or military equipment by way of Pakistani intermediaries. Karzai, according to this commander, was one of the early exceptions.