by Gerald Posner
One is branded a druglord; the other a corrupt tycoon—critics say President Karzai's brothers undermine Afghanistan. Both respond exclusively for the first time.
“My friend, I am ready to take a polygraph. I am innocent. If anyone can find any money from my family hidden in any bank in the world, I am telling you that they can keep it.” Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is excited, his voice rising as he talks. He is tired of six years of news reports casting him as the Afghan Pablo Escobar.
“Our character is being assassinated before the entire world,” says Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s older brother, and the subject of widespread reports questioning a purported fortune through favoritism and tainted deals. “I am sick and tired of people thinking that I have accomplished what I have only because I am the president’s brother.”
“I am the most wanted person by al Qaeda and the Taliban. That is because I have brought the tribes together. I have done so much work for the Americans, so much of it secret, it is incredible how much I have helped the Americans. And I am repaid with these press reports?”
Ahmed and Mahmoud are cited by Afghanistan watchers as serious political liabilities to the country’s fragile democracy and to Hamid Karzai’s claim that his government is making progress against the systemic corruption that is part of the nation’s DNA.
Neither has ever been charged with any crime. The duo recently came out swinging, providing The Daily Beast exclusive and feisty interviews regarding what Ahmed calls “the slanders, lies, and vicious attacks” swirling around them.
First, some background. Afghan and American officials have privately accused Ahmed, who heads the powerful provincial council in Kandahar, of being a heroin kingpin in the nation that supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium supply. They cite a few examples. In 2004, Afghan security forces stumbled on a cache of heroin hidden in tractor-trailer outside Kandahar. The local commander, Habibullah Jan, said Ahmed called him and demanded the drugs be released. Jan was ambushed and shot to death in 2007, with government officials blaming the Taliban. In 2006, a DEA informant, Hajji Aman Kheri, gave a tip about a truck near Kandahar carrying 110 pounds of pure heroin, allegedly under the watchful eye of one of Ahmed’s bodyguards. And last month, the German magazine Stern reported that British troops seized several tons of raw opium on one of Ahmed’s farms.
Ahmed spent a half hour debunking the details of the various charges. Jan was a well-known political opponent of his brother, he says, and went on to become an opposition member of parliament. So why would he have told a political foe to release seized drugs? “Anyone who understands our politics would know this is impossible it would be so stupid.”
As for the 2006 heroin seizure, “I am guilty by association. Can I be responsible for everyone who used to work for me?” And as for reports that British troops seized opium on his farm, he gets agitated. “Look, my friend, what land? What happened to the opium? The driver? What happened to those people who were taking the drugs somewhere? Every major foreign intelligence and drug agency is operating in Afghanistan. If I am a drug dealer why have they not produced a shred of real evidence, not just get somebody to print false rumors?”
Evidently Hamid Karzai heard the rumors often enough that he wanted to know if they were true. In 2006, he summoned to the presidential palace both the American ambassador, Ronald Neumann, and the embassy’s CIA station chief. Also present were the British ambassador and his MI6 spymaster.