29 Nov 2010

WikiLeaks: Afghanistan political tensions exposed

Afghan President Hamid Karzai insists the leaked documents will not damage international ties as military analyst Professor Michael Clarke tells Channel 4 News that WikiLeaks has “lost the plot”.

WikiLeaks: Afghanistan political tensions exposed

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reportedly been described as “extremely weak” and his brother as a corrupt drugs trafficker, according to leaked US diplomatic extracts published today.

Details from 250,000 embassy cables obtained by the whistleblowers’ WikiLeaks website also allege that a former vice-president fled Afghanistan with millions of dollars in cash, according to media reports.

President Karzai’s spokesman today shrugged off the claims in the first round of leaks but acknowledged there was still room for damage.

“It won’t have a noticeable effect on our broader strategic relationship with the US,” spokesman Waheed Omer told a news conference in Kabul.

“There is not much in the documents to surprise us and we don’t see anything substantive that will strain our relationship, but there is more still to come.”

Alleged corruption

According to the Guardian newspaper, the leak also reveals “devastating criticism” of British military operations in Afghanistan. Further details are expected to be published later this week.

WikiLeaks has 'lost the plot'
"What is embarrassing is the impact of this publication, rather than the documents. There is nothing new in the diplomatic chatter," Professor Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute, told Channel 4 News.

"This is the normal confidential 'currency' of diplomacy being paraded almost as a spectator sport.

"It reveals nothing militarily we don’t already know - these internal discussions happen all the time. But the fact is they have come out and are in the press and will be seen as more significant.

"The cables don’t add anything the public needs to know. It just makes diplomacy harder to practise, so we are all going to suffer. There will be far less cooperation in the future because diplomats will be suspicious of what goes to Washington. It will make things less transparent because diplomats around the world will be less honest with each other.

"I am very sympathetic to transparency and the release of some confidential information, but I think WikiLeaks have lost the plot on this one."

In response to the alleged criticism of British military operations in Afghanistan Mr Clarke said that would not come as a surprise to some in British defence.

"The warrior ethos of British troops is held in great respect," he said.

"But what America often criticises is the lack of strategic significance. What we do generally works well, but we don’t have the resources to do things on a significant scale."

A number of documents published today paint a negative picture of the President’s half brother Ahmad Wali Karzai [titled AWK in leaked cables], a major power broker in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

“While we must deal with AWK as the head of the Provincial Council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker,” claims one confidential cable from Kabul, dated October 2009 and signed off by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

The US document goes on to say that the AWK meeting highlights one of the “major challenges in Afghanistan: how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt.”

According to the documents Ahmad Wali Karzai met the US envoy for a second time four months later where he insisted on taking a polygraph test in order to clear allegations of his involvement in drugs, which he has always denied.

Pakistan Taliban claims

In the cable, Ahmad Wali Karzai is quoted as claiming that the Pakistan government is forcing Taliban members to fight rather than reintegrate with the Afghan government.

“Senior Taliban fighters in Pakistan may be prepared to reintegrate, [AWK] said, but are forced by the Pakistan Government to continue to fight”.

In the extract, the younger Karzai “dressed in a crisp white shalwar kameez”, allegedly emphasised his links to the United States. “AWK fondly recalled his days in Chicago as a restaurant owner.”

The US embassy in Kabul condemned the release but said it would not affect the relationship.

The harsh comments are unlikely to come as a surprise to many in Kabul, where tensions with the US are well known.

The most recent rift came ahead of the Lisbon summit earlier this month, when President Karzai called for an end to Nato night raids. The US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, said the comments seriously undermined the war effort.

“The documents are very important and sensitive in terms of governance in Afghanistan and will raise many questions,” said Wahid Mujhda, a Kabul-based political analyst and author.

The UK Foreign Office said that such leaks were “not in the national interest” and could damage national security.

Channel 4 News has been unable to independently verify the authenticity of the leaked data.

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