Key questions about the credibility of the Afghan attorney general's office as it prepares to investigate accusations that Kam Air is involved in drug-smuggling.
Yesterday, I wrote about Afghan airline Kam Air, which was removed from a US military contracting blacklist for alleged involvement in drug smuggling after complaints from the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai.
The US military in Afghanistan says that the blacklisting has simply been "suspended" pending an Afghan government investigation. That investigation will likely be carried out by the attorney general's office. Who will ultimately decide? Since Afghanistan's politics is only slightly less convoluted and conspiratorial than Florence under the Medici family, I can't really say.
But in doing some reading for the story, I scanned the latest quarterly report from the special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which contains an amusing – or horrifying, depending on your perspective – anecdote on political maneuvering and dysfunction at the Afghan attorney general's office.
The Jan. 30 document dryly notes that the "Afghan Attorney General Office (AGO) made no significant anti-corruption indictments or prosecutions this quarter. Afghan prosecutors continued to complain that they lack supervisors’ support for prosecutions," and then launches into the story of how the director general of the attorney general's anticorruption unit (ACU) lost his job last year, according to the US Embassy in Kabul.
"A group of prosecutors in the AGO’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) set up the Unit’s Director General by supplying him with alcohol and encouraging him to denigrate the Attorney General while videotaping the incident, according to State. This led to his arrest and subsequent removal from his post. State noted that although the replacement is a reputable prosecutor, it will be difficult for the ACU to function effectively if it continues to be full of internal rivalry and intrigue."
Afghanistan's Attorney General Mohammed Ishaq Aloko has been on the job since 2008, a period when political meddling in prosecutions has been rife. For years, US officials in Afghanistan have privately complained that he's intervened to quash investigations into friends or allies of Karzai. The US has also alleged that Aloko and Karzai have been involved in the pre-trial release of insurgents.
For instance, in a 2009 embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, then-Ambassador Karl Eibenberry writes that:
On numerous occasions we have emphasized with Attorney General Aloko the need to end interventions by him and President Karzai, who both authorize the release of detainees pre-trial and allow dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court. On July 29th, Legal Adviser Harold Hongju Koh and Deputy Ambassador Frances Ricciardone demarched Attorney General Muhammad Ishaq Aloko about our concern over pre-trial releases and presidential pardons of narco-traffickers (Reftel Kabul 02245)... Despite our complaints and expressions of concern to the (government of Afghanistan), pre-trial releases continue.
Also in 2009, Mr. Aloko bristled at a US complaint about the specific release of the nephew of a powerful Afghan warlord and insurgent.
When Ricciardone explained to ALOKO about the crucial link between rule of law and sovereignty, ALOKO challenged the Ambassador to define sovereignty, and declared that decisions about releases were Afghan problems, 8 implying that the U.S. should stay out of them. Ambassador Ricciardone pressed ALOKO on why, contrary to explicit agreement, the GIRoA allowed 150 pre-trial releases from the (Afghanistan National Detention Facility), including the recent release without trial of Abdullah Shahab, nephew of anti-American Mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Shahab had admitted to video-taping attacks against U.S. forces for use as Taliban propaganda. ALOKO responded that a familial relationship to Hekmatyar had nothing to do with Shahab's case and that his camera activities were not illegal. ALOKO argued that when the U.S. transfers detainees to the GIRoA, the U.S.-provided evidence against some detainees is insufficient for prosecution, so he is sometimes left with no other choice than to release the detainee rather than let their cases take up time in already overburdened court.
That cable makes it clear that the US has had little faith or trust in Aloko for some time. Aloko told the US diplomats in his meeting that he had no involvement in the pre-trial releases of a number of drug traffickers that US forces had handed over to the Afghan government. The US diplomat who wrote the cable adds in a short parenthetical aside after recording Aloko's position: "(Note: ALOKO's claimed lack of involvement in the narcotics cases is not credible.)"
So, this is the office that will investigate Kam Air. In a statement on the matter earlier this week, US Forces – Afghanistan wrote: "The Afghan Government and USFOR-A remain mutually committed to transparency and combating corruption."