President Hamid Karzai at least shows a rare frankness among politicians when he acknowledged today that the CIA has been dropping off money at his office for nearly a decade now.
Karzai says that the funds were used for "various purposes" and thanked the US for making the funds available to him. The admission, made at a news conference in Helsinki Finland, appears to confirm an earlier report in the New York Times which claimed that the CIA sought influence in Afghanistan with "bags of cash". While Karzai described the amount of cash delivered as a "small amount", he offered few details. The earlier article gave these details: "For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency."
Former and current advisers of Karzai have put the total deliveries at tens of millions of dollars over the decade. They claim the cash was used to pay off warlords, lawmakers, and others whose support Karzai relies upon. Some anonymous US diplomats expressed dismay about the cash deliveries. The CIA operation, of course, is classified.
Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah said:“We’ve all suspected it. But for President Karzai to admit it out loud brings us into a bizarro world.”
This is not the first time that Karzai has confirmed receiving bribes. In 2010 he admitted that one of his aides was taking bags of cash from Iran. Unlike the CIA, Iran decided it was not getting any return on its investment and stopped payments after the US and Afghanistan signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement last May governing relations between the US and Afghanistan from 2014 until 2024. Iran objected to parts of the agreement.
Karzai said the CIA money was continuing to flow and was delivered monthly. Karzai said that the various purposes the cash was used for included, assisting wounded Afghan soldiers and paying rent. Afghan officials said the money was basically used as a slush fund to cover expenses officials did not want on the books.
The CIA in the past also paid powerful warlords to battle against the Taliban and even earlier they had paid Islamic jihadists to fight against the Evil Soviet Empire when Soviet troops were in Afghanistan. After the occupation of Afghanistan support for the warlords in repressing the Taliban was continued. Karzai's brother Ahmed Wali was one who worked on behalf of the CIA until he was assassinated in 2011.
While the US always complains about corruption in the Karzai government at the same time it contributes to the corruption by these payments. As Representative Chaffetz put it: “I thought we were trying to clean up waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan. We have no credibility on this issue when we’re complicit ourselves. I’m sure it was more than a few hundred dollars.”
Often, Karzai sounds as if he is biting the hand that feeds him as he criticizes the US. However, this is mostly for domestic consumption so that he appears not to be a puppet of the US. When push comes to shove however Karzai usually backs down and takes the next bag of cash.