Finding the silver(ish) lining in Afghanistan's Emerald City

A Brief (Nauseating) History of Karzai Pardons

This was a completely random post that started due to this story yesterday as reported by TOLO news:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai decreed the release of 5 would-be suicide bombers arrested by Afghan security forces.

Good for him, right? Pardoning suicide bombers, versus having them executed, etc.

Of course, like all things Karzai, it gets a little more interesting once the onion gets peeled back a bit. And yes, “peeling the onion” is an overused phrase…but I like it, so I’m going to keep using it. Anyway:

President Hamid Karzai stressed that the released suicide bombers will be provided with education scholarships inside or outside the country, especially in Turkey.

If I were a cynical sort, I’d say that President Karzai isn’t a fan of the Turks. Here’s how I envision his speech:

“Young men of Afghanistan,

I have long been a firm believer in continuing education. In fact, my bankroll, er, brother, Wali, was once a teacher himself in the United States.

So our family has long supported pursuing one’s educational dreams.

Since many of you have obviously spent time in Pakistan, and demonstrated your desire to study abroad, I think you should continue to strive for educational excellence in foreign lands.

I understand that Turkey is wonderful this time of year.

As a parting gift from the people of Afghanistan, I would like to present each of you with a turban.”

I don’t claim to understand the nuances of Afghan/Turk relations to the point in order to offer any analysis, but, in trying to find this story this morning, I came across a series of articles detailing previous Karzai pardons. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but, this is just…classic Karzai.

In August of 2008, it was reported by the Independent that Karzai had pardoned a group of men convicted of gang rape.

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has pardoned three men who had been found guilty of gang raping a woman in the northern province of Samangan.

The woman, Sara, and her family found out about the pardon only when they saw the rapists back in their village.

A copy of the pardon was numbered, dated in May and appeared to bear the personal signature of Hamid Karzai. It recommended the men’s release because, it said, “they had been forced to confess to their crimes.”

He said it was impossible that President Karzai could knowingly have signed a pardon for rapists, but refused to speculate on how the pardon could have come about. He promised an investigation into all aspects of the case, including the – as yet unsolved – mystery of Sara’s missing son.

Implication in the rest of the story was that these men worked for Mawlai Islam, referred to as a “local commander,” and that the release was likely an attempt by someone, possibly in Karzai’s regime, to curry favor with someone in the area.

Then there’s the story first reported in the Boston Globe (which, since those folks want me to subscribe to read the whole article, found the whole story here instead) of Karzai releasing drug traffickers ahead of his election:

When five drug traffickers in military uniforms were caught transporting heroin in a police truck in 2007, it was a victory for a dogged team of Afghan investigators and their US mentors who are waging a Quixotic battle against narcotics, the nation’s largest industry.

The men were prosecuted by a special drug court that the US government has spent tens of millions of dollars developing as a bulwark against corruption. They were sentenced to between 16 and 18 years in prison.

But in April, Afghan president Hamid Karzai pardoned the five men. One was the nephew of a powerful politician managing Karzai’s reelection campaign, and the presidential decree ordering their release notes that they had ties to a well-respected family, according to a senior Afghan official.

The tendency is to assume that these were small-time dealers released merely as a symbolic gesture.

According to Sareer Ahmad Barmak, spokesman for the Criminal Justice Task Force, the five arrested in a border police truck had more than 120 kilograms of heroin – a cache with a potential street value of more than $3 million in the United States.

One of the men was Bilal Wali Mohammad, nephew to Haji Din Mohammad, a powerful tribal leader who resigned his post as Kabul governor to become Karzai’s campaign manager.

Bilal worked as the personal secretary for his cousin, Haji Zahir, commander of the border police in Takhar, a province that borders Tajikistan and serves as a conduit for drugs to Europe.

Bilal and Zahir’s family connections made them exactly the kind of untouchable target that the Task Force was designed to apprehend, since leading dealers are often tied to powerful families. Zahir’s father had been Karzai’s vice president until his assassination in 2002. Another uncle was a famous Afghan commander who fought the Soviets and was executed by the Taliban.

$3 million is a whole lot of gesturing.

Then in 2010, leaked cables sent by the US Embassy in 2009  listed multiple instances where drug traffickers had been released by Karzai before those individuals had been subjected to due process.

On numerous occasions we have emphasized with Attorney General Aloko the need to end interventions by him and President Karzai, who both authorize the release of detainees pre-trial and allow dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court.

In April of 2010, Karzai pardoned a Taliban commander.

Hamid Karzai is believed to have pardoned a Taliban commander responsible for the kidnap of a British United Nations worker and her two colleagues.

Akbar Agha was sentenced to 16 years after abducting the trio from the Afghan capital in 2004 and threatening to execute them unless Taliban prisoners were released.

His family said he was quietly freed after a presidential pardon last summer.

This was in the midst of a series of public and not-so-public pronouncements where Karzai threatened to join the Taliban if he received continued pressure to reform.

“He said that ‘if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban’,” said Farooq Marenai, who represents the eastern province of Nangarhar.

“He said rebelling would change to resistance,” Marenai said – apparently suggesting that the militant movement would then be redefined as one of resistance against a foreign occupation rather than a rebellion against an elected government.

Marenai said Karzai appeared nervous and repeatedly demanded to know why parliament last week had rejected legal reforms that would have strengthened the president’s authority over the country’s electoral institutions.

Good of Karzai to pardon the guy responsible for the kidnapping of aid workers.

Again, this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, but given that these events seem to pepper Karzai’s time as President, I think I’d be safe in assuming that President Hamid Karzai is using his office for further personal political gains.

Someone get me some Pepto.

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