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US withholds $4 billion in Afghanistan war aid. Can Gen. Petraeus cope?

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Karzai looking into corruption

Qaseem Ludin, the deputy director of Afghanistan’s corruption oversight agency, admits problems, but says that President Karzai is not standing in the way. “President Karzai has asked us to look at all the high-level officials – including his brothers – and to take action if we find anything,” Mr. Ludin says. “Yes, judges take bribes, there are kickbacks, I admit we’re in a tough fight. But we’re starting to take action.”

US officials and local politicians allege that Mr. Karzai’s brothers have enriched themselves thanks to their connections. Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s older brother who has investments in property, a bank, and companies that contract to the NATO coalition, says the allegations are motivated by political rivalry and have no merit.

“These allegations are politically motivated and, frankly, stupid,” he says. “I have nothing to hide. This about trying to make President Karzai weak.”

US military and civilian officials say corruption, and perceptions of corruption, have been a dominant factor in communities in Afghanistan’s south where the Taliban is the strongest, and some US politicians are beginning to wonder if development aid on the scale planned here is possible at all.

This week, the Wall Street Journal quoted the head of customs at the Kabul airport as saying that $3 billion in cash has been flown out of the country (Afghanistan’s annual GDP is worth about $11 billion) and the Washington Post quoted unnamed US officials as saying that the government has protected senior officials and connected-businessmen from prosecution.

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