WIKILEAKS HAS given us an insight into what Western officials really think about Afghanistan. The picture that emerges is of a country run by a government corrupt from top to bottom, and where Australian officials admit efforts to maintain Western control will fail.
The enormous scale of the corruption and profiteering by those the West has put in charge makes a mockery of the talk of democracy and human rights that the US used to justify toppling the Taliban.
A cable from October 2009 details how then Vice President Ahmed Zia Massoud took a plane to Dubai carrying $52 million in cash. He was stopped by drug enforcement and money laundering investigators in the United Arab Emirates, but was allowed to keep the money without explaining how he had come by it.
Apparently this happens all the time—according to the cable, records at Kabul International Airport show, “large amounts of physical cash transit from Kabul to Dubai on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis”. And that was just what was officially declared to customs!
Another cable details how an Afghan official revealed the “four stages” at which the governor of Paktya province extracted bribes: “when contractors bid on a project, at application for building permits, during construction and at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.” Those that weren’t willing to pay would be “arrested at job sites and held until the bribes are paid.”
This kind of behaviour is allowed to go on because President Hamid Karzai habitually intervenes in criminal cases to pardon those accused of drugs or corruption offences, the cables explain.
The Australian government’s message under both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard has been of steady progress in Afghanistan. A “credible strategy” was how Rudd described Obama’s decision to send more troops in December 2009.
But according to Wikileaks Kevin Rudd told a group of visiting US politicians in October 2008 something quite different. After first assuring them he’d supported the Afghan war “from day one” he went on to deliver a bleak assessment, “Afghanistan scares the hell out of me”.
Rudd has since claimed that this pessimistic assessment was consistent with his public utterings at the time. “Grim, difficult, dangerous, bloody, these are things I consistently said” he told ABC radio. Describing the situation as “difficult” however, is not the same as saying it “scares the hell out of me”.
Wikileaks has also revealed that behind the scenes Australian officials are just as pessimistic. Ric Smith, a former Defence Department official, returned from Afghanistan and described Australia’s mission in Oruzgan province as being based on a “wobbly three-legged stool”; the Afghan National Police as a “train wreck” and that putting more resources into them would be “putting good money into a bad situation”.
So why in spite of this bleak assessment do our political leaders continue to follow the US into this quagmire? It has nothing to do with values or principles. By being a staunch ally of the US in Afghanistan, our political leaders are hoping to get favorable treatment for Australian business interests elsewhere and to reinforce Australia’s anointment as the local power in the South Pacific.
Of course they can’t tell the Australia people this. Thanks to Wikileaks, however, more of their lies and inconsistencies have been exposed.