TORONTO — Corruption at the Afghan government’s highest levels, coupled with unhelpful Western meddling along the way, crippled efforts to effectively battle the country’s burgeoning opium trade, says the country’s former counter-narcotics minister.
Speaking at length for the first time since he abruptly resigned his post two years ago, Habibullah Qaderi said an increasing sense of isolation drove him to quit Hamid Karzai’s cabinet and take up the position of consulate-general in Toronto.
“I’ve never been supported by the international community; I was not supported by my own government,” he said. “I never felt I was supported by anybody. That will automatically make you ill.”
Qaderi led Afghanistan’s counter-narcotics charge from January 2004 until he resigned in July 2007 — a move that came amid a record poppy harvest, and which officials attributed to health concerns.
Some critics branded Qaderi ineffective and incompetent as head of the fledgling ministry; a whisper campaign also linked him to money laundering — a “bogus” allegation that still hurts, he said.
Qaderi took aim at the malignant corruption he said infected the government and metastasized throughout the insurgency-racked country. His efforts to draw attention to the problem were stymied, he said, internally and by the international community.
In some cases, he said, international intelligence agencies persisted in supporting officials they knew to be dishonest because it served their own purposes.
Those agents are “thriving” under the protection of foreign services, he said.
“In my day, in high levels, there were people who were corrupt — those people are still in those posts,” Qaderi said. “Corrupt people are corrupt people. The day they become part of the Afghan government, the damage is much higher. It’s not controllable.”
As minister, Qaderi’s days consisted of moving from his barricaded, darkened home to a bulletproof car with tinted windows, then to a heavily fortified office — amid the constant fear of attack.
It was a daunting challenge the Kandahar-born mechanical engineer said he would have accepted had he been able to see light at the end of the tunnel.
“As far as the corruption is concerned, it continues,” Qaderi said. “I am part of the same government. I feel ashamed sometimes.”
Still, Qaderi defended Afghanistan’s oft-maligned president, saying he does not believe Karzai himself is corrupt. Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has denied allegations that he is involved in the narco-trade and on the CIA payroll.
Qaderi said he turned down an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes to talk about high-level corruption and drug trafficking because he didn’t think it would make a difference.
“It is futile to talk about something that is not going to change.”