President Karzai’s brazen admission to accepting cash from Iran through his Chief of Staff Umar Daudzai comes as no surprise to government insiders. It’s utterly of a piece with the routine and pervasive corruption that has become a signature of the Karzai administration. A former Afghan cabinet minister wrote me that Daudzai—Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Iran from 2005 to 2007—is said to receive $3.5 million every month from the Islamic Republic. Further, he claims that both Daudzai and Minister of Education Wardak “used some of that money for Karzai's campaign and bribing a number of parliamentarians.”
The same source reports that the regime’s thirst for cash dates back to the salad days of 2002, when Daudzai was dispensing funds from his office in a two-story building in the east part of the palace. The money is kept in a cabinet there. In 2002, ministers received no regular salaries and labored in the name of patriotism, if they were honest, or for simple lucre, if they weren’t. So when a cabinet member needed travel money or emergency funds, Daudzai would open the magic cabinet and hand over a wad of bills. The recipient would sign for it, but “anyone could open Daudzai’s office and the cabinet and anyone could fabricate a signature.”
Presumably Americans close to the palace knew about these sorts of practices long ago, but kept silent—part of the stay-out-of-jail-free pass the Karzai regime has enjoyed until recently.
Daudzai himself has made out like a bandit. According to my source, he’s the owner of a couple of Kabul mansions and a country house, and sends his kids to the pricey International School of Kabul (annual tuition around $6,000 per child). Dexter Filkins reported in The New York Times that he also has multiple houses in Dubai and Vancouver.
The larger question, of course, concerns whether the United States ought to be worried about this influence-buying by Iran. My view is we shouldn’t panic. After all, if Karzai were so easily purchased by a foreign power, he would have long since done what we’ve been asking him to do and cleaned up his administration. Iran’s putative $3.5 million a month amounts to small potatoes compared with, say, the $1 billion First Brother Ahmad Wali Karzai is reported by the Times of London to receive every year for doing business with coalition forces. And presumably Karzai has access to these same funds, as well as Other Brother Mahmoud Karzai’s farflung business empire, if he needs to bribe the stray MP.
The alleged transfer of Iranian IED expertise to the insurgency and the possible flow of terrorists bound for at the United States across the porous Afghan-Iranian border should worry us much more.
That said, Daudzai’s clearly not a good guy, but he’s hardly alone in the Karzai orbit. If we had any guts, we’d throw the bastards out. But we don’t. History, and the Afghans, won’t judge us well.
Ann Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, reports frequently from Afghanistan. She is the author of the first extended biographical study of David Galula, recently published by the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College.