Karzai’s half-brother on hot seat
Allegations swirl, but he denies any influence peddling
KABUL, Afghanistan — Allegations of wrongdoing have swirled around Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother for years, but now they are coming from inside the president’s own Defense Ministry.
The president, who defended his half-brother against allegations of criminal behavior yesterday, is being asked to investigate whether Ahmad Wali Karzai used his influence to help friends and associates build profitable projects on government-owned land.
In a six-page report prepared for Major General Sher Mohammad Zazi, the Afghan army commander in the south, the ministry said Ahmad Wali Karzai and other power brokers have taken over nearly 9,700 acres in and around Kandahar that are owned by the ministry.
The report says these “irresponsible individuals and land occupiers’’ have not paid rent or are charging their tenants rent that exceeds what they are paying the ministry to use the land. As compensation, the ministry wants Kandahar officials to give it an equal amount of land.
Regardless of whether the allegations are true, Ahmad Wali Karzai, 48, has become a political liability for Hamid Karzai, a symbol of cronyism and a lightning rod for criticism of his administration.
Critics, including some in the international community, say Ahmad Wali Karzai is standing in the way of efforts to set up an effective government in Kandahar, where US, NATO, and Afghan forces are ramping up security to rout the Taliban from their spiritual birthplace. The political dispute only adds to the problems in Kandahar, where insurgents have responded to the military operation by killing government officials and others seen as allies of those seeking change.
Ahmad Wali Karzai, who has denied the allegations, is head of the Kandahar provincial council.
President Karzai said that for five years he has sought proof of the alleged misdeeds. So far, the accusers have failed to bring him evidence, he said.
“Once they said he had links to smugglers,’’ the president said. “This is a very serious issue if the president’s brother has links to smugglers.’’
The president said that at his half-brother’s suggestion, he wrote letters to the US Embassy asking for evidence, and that his foreign affairs adviser had also talked with European officials.
“During the last five years — 20 to 25 times — I have asked them, but finally they told us that they have nothing against him and that these are all rumors,’’ Karzai said.
“They have made life very difficult for him there. Unfortunately no one can eliminate rumors and no one can bring evidence, so Ahmad Wali is a sacrifice there.’’
Ahmad Wali Karzai reacted in anger to the report. He vowed not to conduct any council business until the ministry apologizes or proves the allegations. The provincial council is asking the president to send a delegation from Kabul to investigate.
“They are blaming me for land mafia, but they don’t have any evidence,’’ Ahmad Wali Karzai said earlier this week. “If they have proof, they should show it. If not, they should apologize.’’
The Defense Ministry identified 16 properties it says are owned by the government. The ministry said one tract is occupied by 290 shops and four hotels that were built and later sold by one of Ahmad Wali Karzai’s relatives. The report said Ahmad Wali Karzai’s associates are occupying another piece of land once used by the army.
A senior defense official in Washington said that the commander of joint operations in Iraq, General Stanley McChrystal, recently conducted a review of Ahmad Wali Karzai’s activities and that while there was suspicious behavior there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.