National Security

War on Terror & Ghost Money

By Rana Athar Javed

Giving morphine to a monster makes it uglier! The full-scale impact of this expression can be seen in the recently revealed “Af-Karzai cash” affair. What is termed as “ghost money” by Mr. Karzai’s aide is now public and, Mr. Karzai has “owned up to it”. The ferocity with which the corruption is injected into the so-called “peace making” process after 9/11 defeats conventional wisdom, thereby sets an outrageous example to run Afghanistan after US withdrawal in 2014.

The step-by-step approach of President Karzai to receive money from CIA shows the fundamental defect in tackling “manufactured” political leadership during a conflict. According to New York Times “What began as payments to Afghan warlords to overthrow the Taliban morphed eventually into a steady stream of cash to buy [CIA’s] influence at the presidential palace and… [to cover the cost of] buying the loyalty of warlords and politicians….”

In response to the report, Karzai told reporters in Helsinki [that], “the amounts had been “not big” and the funds were used for various purposes including assistance for the wounded. “It [is] multi-purpose assistance…” Mr. Karzai’s confession reflects the complexity and nature of the Afghan conflict where even the “assistance for wounded” is being delivered secretly by the CIA. Extending so-called democratic process OR setting-up a commission to serve the cause of public welfare should have the right course, but that did not happen. The intertextual reference to “multi purposes” generates more ambiguity about current Afghan situation, ranging from increase of regional hostility, civil war and US capitulation to Mr. Karzai’s corrupt bureaucratic players.

The US government might not have unanimously supported the operation, but, there shall remain no doubt that the funds fuelled corruption, created assembly line of terrorists, Indian proxies and most dangerously empowered warlords. Improvisation and characterization of entire process is indeed can construct a defective design of US withdrawal plan, the rolling compulsions of which would mobilize more “bad guys” and hence more instability and sufferings for Afghan people.

While fully appreciating the consequences of such a policy for the future of Afghanistan, the US is still reluctant to formulate criteria that would serve as a definition of success and the basis for ending the fighting. The war on terror is bound to be a wider source of strategic impact including a possible intensity in cross-border infiltration from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory. Recent direct firing on Pak-army’s check post is just one such example.

Also, the scope of this policy does not preclude low-mid-ranking assassinations of Afghan political leadership because the way funds are distributed parallel to the negotiation process with Taliban, its effect to reestablish a peaceful Afghanistan in 2014 and beyond will be challenging.

The “rolling” nature of Mr. Karzai’s diplomatic and international stature hardly characterizes him a credible and honest peace broker, and therefore leading to severe criticism of current Afghan policy of the US. Throughout the war on terror, the Afghan government pretended to be doing everything according to moral and diplomatic norms, however search for real political imagery continues without any real success.

To be concluded, the US insistence that its withdrawal plan in 2014 will not expand fighting beyond Afghanistan supports unclear peace objectives. The question as who is the real responsible for the current Afghan dilemma largely remains related to the incompetency of Afghan government. Whereas, the US/NATO leadership seeks to declare success in Afghanistan including its “ability” to withdraw troops by 2014, depending on a corrupt government could not win hearts and minds in Afghanistan.

Thus, striking a “new” manifestation of withdrawal policy will prove crucial to establish a mechanism of linking US policy with the regional partnership. Most importantly, when prewar planning fails, the subsequent process/strategy involving consideration for a real peace could avoid further operational failures.

In the case of Afghanistan, little consideration is given to establish a “just peace”, that is Afghan-led-and-Afghan owned, hence the political disconnect between Karzai and US government. The US/NATO exit strategy in 2014 must evolve on the basis of a “set deadline”, rather than training and equipping Afghan troops in a hurry.

The conventional conclusion is that linking corruption with welfare of people may be a primary factor for Mr. Karzai to sustain, but in practice the ghost money is a preamble to more scandals and stories of personal corruption in Afghanistan. This episode is another dent in the perceived perception of American engagement in a conflict zone.