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Resident Evil: Zabul

By now, I should be inured to the bad news in the late-night emails that I get from American officers in Zabul (late night my time, early morning their time) announcing the latest unbelievably corrupt and foolish decision by the Afghan government. But hey, I’m an American, so I still get annoyed enough to write something when yet another evil Zabul official, laboriously removed from office by the efforts of NATO troops, crops up again like a bad penny in another place. No one ever seems to get punished for evil — and I use that word advisedly — in Afghanistan; they just get moved.

Latest case in point: I’d written about how Mohammad Wazir, the district governor of Shamulzai District, in Zabul Province, was finally thrown out. The charges against him came from the outraged people of the district, who called a shura in early April to demand his ouster. Accusations ranged from the usual corruption — selling humanitarian relief supplies intended for his people — to commandeering the American-donated Ford Rangers of a neighboring district’s police to smuggle heroin. Zabul’s maneuver commander, Lt. Col. Dave Oclander of the 82nd Airborne Division, had moved heaven and earth to get Zabul’s governor, Mohammed Ashraf Naseri, to attend the shura and take the complaints seriously.

Normally imperturbable, rural Afghan whitebeards rarely raise their voices, but at that shura there was shouting and turban-throwing. They wanted to see Wazir charged under the criminal code. Naseri removed Wazir from the district but wanted to move Wazir to another dirt-poor southern Zabul district, Atghar. Oclander knew that moving Wazir to Atghar would just move the drug routes from one district to another.

At a meeting held about the case, Zabul’s new police chief, Asadullah Sherzad, supported Naseri’s proposed move. Sherzad himself was basically thrown out of Helmand by the British for involvment with the heroin trade, and is linked by intel experts with Ahmed Wali Karzai — crime boss of Kandahar, suspected heroin dealer, and, of course, the president’s brother. (A Canadian general of my acquaintance, also normally imperturbable, visibly started when I happened to mention Sherzad to him. “He’s still a police chief?” he said in disbelief.)

AWK — as Karzai is known here — intervened himself on behalf of Wazir, whom locals charge with running drugs for Karzai. (The former police chief of Shamulzai, Urbal, says Wazir met AWK two days before Sherzad arrived in early April. The Americans in Zabul consider Urbal to be honest, but Naseri fired him when he got into a confrontation with Wazir.)

Governor Naseri removed Wazir from office, but held off on prosecuting him. Oclander wouldn’t let the issue die, though, and I was at a government security meeting in late April when Naseri announced that Wazir would never be a district governor in Zabul again. It wasn’t clear if he’d be prosecuted; in fact, it’s not very clear in the Afghan criminal code under what circumstances prosecution must occur, and Zabul’s chief judge seemed not to know.

For Afghanistan, this was a happy ending — a bad district governor got fired. Even better, Sherzad abruptly quit 21 days into his job, perhaps because the American officers here were watching him closely.

Not. I just got an email from Oclander telling me that “President Karzai’s committee” determined that Wazir was not the problem — the problem was Urbal, the decent police chief. And Wazir is to be reinstated in the district he was plundering, where the people loathe him. Oclander had told me weeks ago that Wazir was so bad that “if I lived in Shamulzai and I had to choose between the Taliban and Wazir, I’d choose the Taliban.”

And Sherzad is trying for higher office, having entered his name as a candidate for parliament from his native Farah Province.

Wonder why we’re losing Afghanistan?

Here is the quote with which I began my last blog entry:

“This is all a war of perceptions,” McChrystal said on the eve of the Marja offensive. “This is all in the minds of the participants. Part of what we’ve had to do is convince ourselves and our Afghan partners that we can do this.”

The corruption at the top reaches down into the most remote rural hellholes of Zabul. And we won’t make progress in Afghanistan until the criminals at the top are removed.

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