/ 9 September 2010

Afghanistan seeks to dilute foreign anti-graft role

Afghanistan Seeks To Dilute Foreign Anti Graft Role

Afghanistan will limit foreign involvement in two major anti-crime units in a move likely to worry its Western backers and stoke fears about President Hamid Karzai’s commitment to fighting endemic graft.

Afghanistan is one of the world’s most corrupt countries and Washington fears the problem is helping to boost the Taliban-led insurgency and complicate efforts to strengthen government control so US and other foreign troops can begin withdrawing from July 2011.

While still reliant on money and support from the West, Karzai has lately been trying to assert his independence from his Western backers ahead of a September 18 parliamentary election, most recently by issuing a ban on most foreign private security firms.

Afghanistan’s Attorney General Ishaq Aloko said Karzai has ordered rules which bar foreign involvement in major anti-corruption investigations by Afghanistan’s Major Crimes Task Force and Sensitive Crimes unit.

“They should not intervene in decision-making and not issue orders. It should be entirely an Afghan entity which can represent the authority of the government,” Aloko told Reuters.

The units were set up last year, with United States, British and EU help, amid Western anger over persistent corruption that the United Nations estimates costs Afghans $2,5-billion a year.

Under the new rules, being drawn up by the Justice Ministry, foreign agencies would have no say in investigations by the two anti-graft units run by the Interior Ministry and Afghanistan’s spy agency, Aloko said. Afghan forces would still need logistical and technical assistance from foreigners, he said.

The planned changes have alarmed US officials in Kabul and Washington and prompted efforts to try to persuade Karzai and his advisers to soften the restrictions, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

“What he’s proposing would effectively neuter these two bodies,” the Post quoted an unidentified US official involved in Afghan policy as saying.

De facto control
Karzai’s advisers think that US officials have de facto control over the key anti-corruption groups, the Post said.

According to Nasrullah Stanekzai, a senior legal adviser in Karzai’s palace, US and British agencies were mostly involved.

“Basically they were involved in the detection of the crime, which is the first phase of investigation, in arrests and recording people’s voices,” Stanekzai told Reuters.

“They were involved in all these issues directly or indirectly, or, to better say, were interfering,” he said.

Foreign advisers, most of whom the Washington Post said worked for the US Justice Department, would be limited to training and advice.

Karzai raised eyebrows in Washington in July when he intervened to order the release of Mohammad Zia Salehi, a senior National Security Council official arrested in a dramatic pre-dawn raid at his home over allegations he had taken bribes.

Karzai ordered his release over concerns about how the arrest was conducted, saying it would taint the rest of the case.

Karzai has promised that fighting graft would be his top priority after a fraud-marred presidential election last year, echoing demands from US counterpart Barack Obama.

But the spotlight has been thrown back on to corruption after two directors from Afghanistan’s top private bank resigned last week amid unproven media allegations of graft.

The directors and some leading shareholders and borrowers have been frozen by the central bank. Karzai’s brother is a major shareholder, as is the brother of his first vice president.

The government and central bank maintain the original Washington Post story on Kabulbank was wrong.

“We have no sign or evidence yet that there was corruption,” Aloko said. “If corruption and embezzlement were involved, then we will follow it. Whoever it is, there will be no exception.” – Reuters