British intelligence is handing “bundles” of cash over to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai for special peace projects despite warnings that handouts are promoting corruption at the heart of his regime.
MI6 officials have acknowledged that the organisation has made direct cash payments to their Afghan counterparts periodically over the 12 years Britain has been at war in Afghanistan.
Mr Karzai declared handouts from the CIA and MI6 are an “easy source of petty cash” for his government as it attempts to seal alliances with powerful regional warlords and secure defections from the Taliban.
The CIA support is believed to have amounted to tens of millions of dollars since 2001 while Britain has channelled a smaller fraction of that amount into “special projects” undertaken by Karzai’s officials.
MPs expressed concern that by simply handing over so-called “ghost money” to President Karzai and his lieutenants, British spies could not be sure that the money would not be lost to corruption.
Adam Holloway, a Conservative MP and member of the Defence Select Committee, warned that they could not be trusted even if the payments could be justified on the grounds that Taliban and other insurgents must be rewarded if they give up the fight against Nato troops.
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“Every effort towards a political fix in Afghanistan must be made and those efforts welcomed but whether or not the money is well spent is a matter that must also be considered,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “There is plenty of evidence that Karzai and his clique do not have an interest in a peace settlement but instead have an interest in continuing the conflict.”
As Britain draws down troop numbers before withdrawing at the end of next year, there are fears that the pressure to seek a deal with insurgents to stop or reduce attacks will see increasing amounts of secret cash spent in Afghanistan.
“We also need to know more about how and where any cash from the UK is being used – how it is being monitored, and what benefits it is actually bringing to the people of Afghanistan,” said Angus Robertson, the SNP MP and party defence spokesman. “It is enormously important to ensure that Afghanistan is as peaceful as it can be in the build up to withdrawal. The terrible roadside attack on Royal Regiment of Scotland personnel last week shows the terrorist threat is still a very real one.”
The revelation that Mr Karzai’s office is awash with cash from his allies has caused a furore in the Afghan parliament where Mr Karzai’s government has faced a barrage of corruption allegations.
“Accepting such money is a big insult to Afghanistan. All those who accepted the cash payments have betrayed the nation,” said Hidayatullah Rihaee, an MP from Bamyan province.
But Mr Karzai said the cash flow was vital to his grip on power and said he had begged the CIA station chief to continue making payments despite US political criticism.
“This is nothing unusual,” he said. “I told him because of all these rumours in the media, please do not cut all this money, because we really need it.”
He admitted that the money had been passed on to potential allies.
By Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent
5:39PM BST 05 May 2013
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