Afghanistan: Corrupt Ex-President Hamid Karzai Hijacks Taliban Transition

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai (C) speaks next to Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah (R) during a press conference at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on July 16, 2021. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP) (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)
SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images

Former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, whose post-9/11 tenure was marked by extreme corruption, met with senior Taliban leaders Wednesday to discuss the creation of an “inclusive” government following the Taliban’s conquest of the nation this weekend.

Karzai had announced this week the creation of a “Coordination Council” to help Taliban jihadis construct a functional government apparatus following their entry into Kabul on Sunday. Karzai appears to have recruited former Afghan second-in-command Abdullah Abdullah, who led negotiations with the Taliban for former President Ashraf Ghani, and mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, known as the “Butcher of Kabul,” to form the council.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan ceased to exist on Sunday after Taliban leaders approached the city. In response to their arrival, Ghani abruptly fled the country, reportedly packing $169 million in four cars and a helicopter. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) confirmed Wednesday that it had offered Ghani “humanitarian” entry into the country.

The Taliban leadership declared victory and established the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” on Sunday evening. In a press conference Tuesday, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated the terrorist organization was still working on establishing a leadership hierarchy and government structure. Taliban representatives have repeatedly promised the formation of an “inclusive” government, a vow that has generated global skepticism given the brutality of the Taliban’s reign prior to the American invasion of the country in 2001.

Afghanistan’s Tolo News — a cable news network that reported Monday the Taliban had entered its headquarters and granted it permission to continue broadcasting — published photos Wednesday of Karzai and Abdullah meeting with senior Taliban political official Anas Haqqani at what appears to be the headquarters of the former Ghani government.

Pajhwok, another Afghan news network, published photos of Haqqani meeting with Hekmatyar.

Haqqani and several other members of the “political” wing of the Taliban were previously established in Doha, Qatar, where the terrorist group maintained a political office in the aftermath of the 2001 American invasion. They have since flown back to organize the reconstruction of the Afghan government from its current Islamist iteration into a fully fundamentalist, sharia-compliant autocracy.

According to the Afghan news agency Khaama Press, a flight full of senior Taliban leaders arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Tuesday night from Qatar, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader most analysts consider the top prospect to be chosen the Taliban-era president of Afghanistan. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen confirmed the arrival of Baradar and several other leaders in a statement Tuesday, claiming civilians in Kandahar “warmly welcomed” them.

Khaama also confirmed the meetings with Karzai, Abdullah, and Hekmatyar, though it noted the Tailban blocked press from covering it and offered no information regarding the details of their conversations.

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, confirmed during his first press conference Tuesday that Taliban officials were “in contact” with the Karzai-led “council.”

“We will do our most to make sure that we are in touch with all sides, with Dr Abdullah, with others, we have been communicating with them,” Mujahid told reporters. “We’re continuing our communication with them we will do our most to make sure that all Afghans are included.”

“Nobody should be left out, or any anybody with interests to serve the nation, they’re not going to be ignored. So the future government will be inclusive,” Mujahid promised. “As to when our leader is going to enter the country, enter Kabul, I should mention that very soon. The decision will be made. The government will be announced and all problems will be solved.”

Karzai became president of Afghanistan in 2001 following the U.S. invasion. He arrived at that position through a compromise, considered the only senior politician in the country moderately palatable to the many ethnicities, interest groups, and warlords of the country. As NPR explained in a 2013 profile, “Karzai had a solid base among the dominant Pashtun ethnic group. With his fluent English, he seemed at ease with U.S. and other Western leaders. And he appeared reasonable and moderate, in stark contrast to the Taliban’s extremism.”

In the time period immediately before ceding the presidency to Ghani in 2014, however, Karzai had lost significant support from the United States in response to the high levels of corruption in his government.

“In recent years, dozens of Karzai family members and close allies have taken government jobs, pursued business interests or worked as contractors to the United States government, allowing them to shape policy or financially benefit from it,” the New York Times reported in 2010. Offering key government positions to unqualified family members resulted in significant government failures in addition to the mysterious disappearance of billions of dollars.

“American officials say the Karzais and a handful of other well-connected families have benefited from the billions of dollars that the United States has poured into the country since 2001,” the Times asserted at the time.

In addition to extensive evidence that Karzai was responsible for large-scale corruption, Karzai reportedly intervened personally to prevent Afghan prosecutors from bringing corrupt officials to justice when they attempted to compile evidence of graft crimes.

Karzai has blamed the United States for funding the Afghan government when confronted with corruption allegations, asking, “What could we do?”

Karzai had largely become irrelevant on the political stage in the country during the Ghani era, but began resurfacing in a media blitz this summer, timed with the Taliban’s rapid gains through the north of the country. Karzai used his platform to denigrate the United States and promote a greater role in the country for China.

“It’s clearly turning out that the United States has failed,” Karzai told China’s state-run Global Times newspaper in July. “Not only did stability not come, conflict did not end, and new terrorist groups emerged.”

In contrast, Karzai encouraged heavy Chinese investment in the country.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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