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| Ander Nieuws week 12 / nieuwe oorlog 2007 |
 
 
 
From hero to outcast

The removal of honest officials such as Aminullah Amerkhel, and the elevation of terrorist sympathizers to positions of power, shows there's little hope for democracy in Afghanistan
 
Ottawa Citizen
March 15, 2007
By Arthur Kent
 
You might be the prime minister of a certain NATO member state, dispatching ministers and generals on a damage-control mission over prisoner exchanges. Or a human rights campaigner trying to investigate war crimes. Or just an honest cop trying to bust heroin smugglers.
 
The message all callers are getting these days from the Presidential Palace in Kabul is the same: The western-sponsored government of Hamid Karzai is broken, hobbled by corruption and ineptitude -- and not even close to receiving the repairs it urgently needs. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper won't want to admit that fact publicly on the eve of a Canadian general election, he and his NATO counterparts would be well advised to heed the cautionary tale of Gen. Aminullah Amerkhel. And, oh yes -- do something about it.
 
Because the general's saga provides vivid evidence of the creeping rot that has afflicted Mr. Karzai's court from its inception as an interim administration following the Taliban's eviction from Kabul in 2001. And of foreign governments that boasted of aiding Afghanistan -- including the Chretien and Martin Liberals -- while simply shrugging off persistent warnings of corruption.
 
Gen. Amerkhel was police chief at Kabul Airport. For years, he was one of Afghanistan's most highly regarded crime fighters. Now, he's an outcast in a cold-water apartment in London attacked by his own government and deserted by the western agencies that once relied on his bravery and skill.
 
Yet not a single formal charge has been laid against Gen. Amerkhel, much less proven. The germ of his undoing? Heroin, and all the greed and treachery of the Afghan trafficking industry, worth up to $6 billion last year.
 
Gen. Amerkhel and his team nabbed scores of heroin smugglers. Police photographs provided exclusively to this reporter reveal an astonishing array of smuggling techniques, an Aladdin's Cave of criminal deception. Afghan police videos show a team of U.S. counter-narcotics officers relishing their close working relationship with the general. "The time for bull----'s over," one officer tells one handcuffed suspect, "because now you're gonna be talking to the Afghan police."
 
The reputation Gen. Amerkhel garnered was such that Britain's transport minister, Kim Howells, invited the general to London in 2004. There he shared his expertise with officials including Britain's head of aviation security, John Parkinson. After he returned to Kabul, Gen. Amerkhel's face became familiar as Afghanistan's TV stations covered his busts at the airport.
 
All this was before Mr. Karzai sidelined the country's respected attorney general, Abdul Mahmood Daqiq. Last August, Mr. Karzai submitted another name for parliament's approval: Abdul Jabar Sabet, a former arch-fundamentalist who now claims to be a champion of justice.
 
"When I first saw him come before parliament," says Kabul MP Ramzan Bashardost, "I thought I was watching someone auditioning for a Charlie Chaplin comedy." But it's not the attorney general's beard and spectacles that most set him apart, or his smooth English (honed in Quebec, of all places, during a Canadian sojourn in the late '90s). It's the fact that Abdul Jabar Sabet was once an aide to warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Mr. Hekmatyar is the most despised of the former anti-Soviet guerrilla leaders, a self-proclaimed ally of Osama bin Laden.
 
When Mr. Karzai appointed Mr. Sabet, the Afghan Bar Association protested: "Karzai has nominated a terrorist for the office of attorney general." The American Lawyers Group for Afghanistan claimed the appointment "raises severe and troubling implications to the United States and Coalition war on terror and the security of Afghanistan."
 
But it was Gen. Amerkhel's personal security that took the first hit. Last autumn Mr. Sabet suspended the general from his post. Still now, the attorney general has failed to file specific charges, but speaks of Gen. Amerkhel engaging in "people smuggling" -- an allegation Gen. Amerkhel denies. Soon after his suspension, Gen. Amerkhel learned he would be arrested. Leaving his family in the care of trusted fellow policemen, he fled to London. His passport still bore the visa granted by the British two years earlier.
 
"It's a scandal," says the speaker of Afghanistan's Senate. "Amerkhel is a very sincere man. He has worked hard for his country. He is from a very proud family. To be arrested would have touched his honour."
 
The chief of the interior ministry police said: "I know Sabet and Amerkhel very well. They had a history when they both served here at the ministry. Amerkhel is one of our most experienced officers, and I hope he comes back to clear his name."
 
"Amerkhel is a good officer," says Kabul's criminal investigation chief, Gen. Ali Shah Paktiawal. "But the law is the law, the constitution is the constitution."
 
Meaning he must obey the attorney general, who shows no sign of relenting. "I would welcome Amerkhel back," says Mr. Sabet, "to put him on trial. He is a criminal. And I've written to our foreign ministry to tell the British they should not give him asylum."
 
Mysteriously, the foreign ministry declines comment. As does the British government. It has offered no help to the general in London, but British police have made no attempt to question him.
 
Similarly, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency refuses to return calls about Gen. Amerkhel. The general has become a non-person -- despite Mr. Sabet's inability to persuade anyone beyond his own office to act on the evidence he claims to have gathered.
 
In Kabul, meanwhile, police sources agree that heroin smuggling at the airport has boomed since Gen. Amerkhel's removal. Heroin profits are soaring, enriching drug lords, the Taliban -- and, investigators say, al-Qaeda. Shadows grow longer over Mr. Karzai: It has been revealed that his hand-picked anti-corruption chief, Izzatullah Wasifi, served four years in Nevada state prison for selling heroin to an undercover agent in 1987.
 
A curious tale, but all too typical in the view of many Kabulis, who complain that plum posts continue to go to old warlords, or cronies of strongmen already in high office. Long lines of Afghans seeking exit visas from foreign embassies, such as Iran's, reveal a people voting with their feet.
 
Nearly a year ago I wrote in the Citizen that the situation in Afghanistan was far from hopeless. I still believe western governments can help it to become a stable, independent nation. But the Afghan people are losing confidence they'll ever achieve true security -- the objective soldiers from nations such as Canada are fighting and dying for.
 
Arthur Kent has reported regularly from Afghanistan since 1980. A series of his film reports is now appearing at skyreporter.com.
 
(c) The Ottawa Citizen 2007
 
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| Ander Nieuws week 12 / nieuwe oorlog 2007 |