Drugs and government business in Afghanistan?

NY Times:

It was a heated debate during the Bush administration: What to do about evidence that Afghanistan’s powerful defense minister was involved in drug trafficking? Officials from the time say they needed him to help run the troubled country. So the answer, in the end: look the other way.

Today that debate will be even more fraught for a new administration, for the former defense minister, Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, stands a strong chance of becoming the next vice president of Afghanistan.

In his bid for re-election, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has surrounded himself with checkered figures who could bring him votes: warlords suspected of war crimes, corruption and trafficking in the country’s lucrative poppy crop. But none is as influential as Marshal Fahim, his running mate, whose trajectory in and out of power, and American favor, says much about the struggle the United States has had in dealing with corruption in Afghanistan.

As evidence of the tensions, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton bluntly told Mr. Karzai that running with Marshal Fahim would damage his standing with the United States and other countries, according to one senior administration official.

Now, the problem of how to grapple with Marshal Fahim adds to the complexity of managing an uneasy relationship with Mr. Karzai. Partial election results show Mr. Karzai leading other contenders, but allegations of fraud threaten to add to the credibility problems facing a second Karzai-led government.

If Marshal Fahim did take office, the administration official said, the United States would probably consider imposing sanctions like refusing to issue him a travel visa — something it does with other foreign officials suspected of corruption — though the official cautioned that the subject had not come up in internal deliberations.

This guy is not much of a leader, but he was enough of one to hold the Northern Alliance together after the murder of their leader by al Qaeda. The CIA gave him some money to help in defeating the Taliban after 9-11, but it was his subordinate commanders who did the hard stuff. While the Times is still beating up on Gen. Dostom for being mean to the Taliban, Dostom was an effective commander who helped defeat the Taliban in the north of Afghanistan and the death of the Taliban prisoners that the Times complains about is much more complicated than the simplistic presentation they make.

Karzai does need to get the support of the Tajik who largely made up the Northern Alliance. If Karzai holds off his chief rival Abdullah he will need help keeping the Tajik from rebelling. Whether Fahim can do that is another question, but that is why he is where he is.


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