UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

March 5, 2009

HOW TO MAKE IT IN AFGHANISTAN

NY Times - Eight years ago, Mahmoud Karzai was running a handful of modest restaurants in San Francisco, Boston and Baltimore. Today, Mr. Karzai, an immigrant waiter-turned-restaurant owner, is one of Afghanistan's most prosperous businessmen. . .

The older brother of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, Mahmoud Karzai has major interests in the country's only cement factory, its dominant bank, its most ambitious real estate development, its only Toyota distributorship and four coal mines.

He and a business partner run Afghanistan's national Chamber of Commerce - which has far more clout than its American counterpart - allowing him to broker deals and lure foreign investors. For executives with problems with the Afghan government, he is the man to see. One prominent Afghan critic describes him as a "minister maker" with sway in hiring and firing top officials. . .

He has collected millions in American government loans for real estate developments in Kandahar and Kabul, capitalized on a friendship with Jack Kemp, the former Republican congressman, for introductions to American officials and international business executives, and benefited from what his rivals charge were sweetheart deals with the Afghan government.

Mr. Karzai's swift rise has stirred resentment and suspicion among many Afghans, who have grown disaffected with the Karzai government and its seeming tolerance for insider dealing, favor trading, bribe taking and other unsavory activities. Rampant corruption fuels the Taliban insurgency, experts warn, and threatens American support for President Karzai, who is seeking re-election this year.

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