The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Karzai seen as "weak" by own cabinet, U.S.

Event notice: Join Steve Coll today in DC at 3:00pm for a conversation with David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill, as they discuss Rohde's captivity in Pakistan's tribal areas and Mulvihill's interactions with American and Pakistani officials as she tried to win his release. Details and RSVP here (NAF).

Wikileaks: Afghanistan edition

U.S. diplomatic cables released by the web site Wikileaks follow Afghan President Hamid Karzai's trajectory from an "eager leader anointed by the West to an embattled politician who often baffles, disappoints or infuriates his official allies" (NYT, AFP, CNN). Some members of Karzai's cabinet and inner circle described him as a "weak man" who does not "listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him" (Guardian, Reuters, AP). U.S. ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry wrote about Karzai in a cable last summer: "Two contrasting portraits emerge. The first is of a paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation building and overly self-conscious that his time in the spotlight of glowing reviews from the international community has passed. The other is that of an ever-shrewd politician who sees himself as a nationalist hero who can save the country from being divided" by political rivals, neighboring countries, and the U.S.

The cables also detail a "steady current" of "grim assessments" about the extent of corruption in Afghanistan, describing how embezzlement, extortion, and bribery undermine progress in the country (Post, NYT, Guardian). An Afghan official pointed out the four stages at which money is skimmed from U.S. development projects: "When contractors bid on a project, at application for building permits, during construction, and at the ribbon-cutting ceremony." The informal money transfer system called hawala is said to facilitate much of the country's corruption, and Karzai's half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, accused of graft and involvement in the drug trade, is called the "kingpin of Kandahar" (CNN, NYT, Guardian, Spiegel).

NATO and Afghan officials, including the then-top commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan Gen. Dan McNeill, Karzai, and the provincial governor Gulab Mangal, all harshly criticized the British performance in Helmand, according to some of the cables, with Mangal, who has been strongly backed by the U.K. and U.S., saying in January 2009, "Stop calling it the Sangin district and start calling it the Sangin base -- all you have done here is built a military camp next to the city" (Guardian, Independent, AFP).

The cables also disclose that Iran is funding a range of Afghan politicians, religious leaders, and scholars, and allegedly providing weapons to the Taliban (Guardian, AFP, Times). The Guardian details other revelations: Germany has threatened to cancel its contributions to a "trust fund" to build up Afghan security forces because of a 15 percent U.S. "handling fee" and other concerns (Guardian); international contractors employed by DynCorp training Afghan police forces allegedly took drugs and paid for young "dancing boys" in Kunduz (Guardian); and former Taliban regime officials admit "mistakes" during their rule, including "meddling in private lives" via institutions like the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Guardian). It's unclear to what extent the former officials speak for or represent the views of the Taliban movement.

New weapons

The Pentagon has reportedly rolled out a prototype of a "smart" shoulder-fired grenade launcher, which can fire 25 mm air-bursting shells, which can be programmed to detonate at a precise distance, up to 2,300 feet  (Tel). The Army expects the new weapon to be a "game-changer" in Afghanistan. U.S. forces in Kunar are reportedly trying a new technique of running development projects on Afghan, rather than American, schedules and only starting projects that could continue after U.S. troops leave (McClatchy). In Takhar, the Dutch NGO worker who was kidnapped about a month ago has been freed along with his Afghan driver (Pajhwok).

Karzai and NATO are at odds over the death earlier this week of a former chief of Gereshk district in Helmand; NATO claims he was shot after threatening NATO and Afghan troops with a grenade during a night raid, and the governor of Helmand told Karzai he was innocent (AP). U.S. Marines who have assumed responsibility for security in Sangin district are reportedly using more air power as part of an aggressive anti-Taliban campaign there (Independent). And a new video released by al-Qaeda's production arm reportedly shows Taliban fighters using surface-to-air missiles in Helmand (Times).

The deputy leader of the Afghan government's peace council, tasked with seeking negotiations with insurgents, asserted that the Special Forces raids NATO has carried out and claimed are momentum changers in the Afghan war are actually making peace more remote, as they eliminate older, more pragmatic Taliban commanders, who are then replaced with "fanatical" new leadership opposed to reconciliation (Tel).

Caution

The militant group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is reportedly planning a series of suicide attacks across Pakistan during the holy month of Muharram, a holiday beginning next week that is important to Shia Muslims, particularly targeting the Iranian embassy and consulate, and organizations with international workers (ET, AP). The TTP also warned the government of Punjab province to remove all non-Muslims from office or face targeting, and authorities in Lahore have arrested five TTP militants in a raid (ET, ET). 

Some German intelligence officials are reportedly concerned about the credibility of the informant in Pakistan whose information prompted the November 17 terror warning in Germany, and police and intelligence are investigating whether al-Qaeda "may be mounting a disinformation campaign to divert and weaken European counterterrorism efforts" (WSJ). One German official commented, "The terrorists gain public attention without even staging an attack."

McClatchy reviews the reaction of Pakistani politicians and analysts to Wikileaks revelations, finding that they have "tarnished the reputation of Pakistan's political and military leadership with the country's public, adding to anti-American sentiments in Pakistan" (McClatchy).

Flood watch: The U.S. military has ended its relief mission to those affected by this summer's floods in Pakistan (AP).

Accommodations

Afghanistan's minister of labor, social affairs, martyrs, and the disabled, Amina Afzali, says her ministry has provided vocational training and aid for 330 handicapped people in Kabul this year, but acknowledges that the disabled seek more help from the government (Pajhwok). Some 2.7 percent of Afghanistan's population is disabled, according to the U.N.

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MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images