The most interesting aspect of the news that there are CIA agents in the Afghan government is how quickly the story died in the media, when by all rights it should have prompted a month-long scandal.
Needless to say, Washington doesn't care much about Afghanistan these days. Over the weekend, American conservatives staged quite a demonstration against President Barack Obama in the center of Washington, while Obama was busy preparing a powerful speech on the principles of U.S. foreign policy and the end of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, or at least the withdrawal of U.S. troops. In November, Obama and his Democratic Party are going to lose the midterm elections, and Obama's hands will be tied by a much more hostile Congress. This is enough news to bury the story about the CIA for good.
It all began last Thursday, or rather on Friday according to European time. The New York Times reported that the head of the Afghan National Security Council Mohammed Zia Salehi has been on the CIA payroll for a long time, meaning that he is essentially a foreign intelligence agent. Similar stories began to appear in the U.S. media. As it turns out, Salehi was not the only one.
During the weekend, Kabul released a surprising document straight out of the Brezhnev era in the Soviet Union, which states that no one in the Afghan government receives money from the CIA. What's more, "the Afghan leadership believes that this groundless propaganda undermines the anti-terrorist alliance." The statement resolutely condemns the "unfounded accusations" that "cast aspersions on responsible Afghan officials." This statement was released by the presidential press service, but several major backers of Hamid Karzai came out with no less forceful statements.
The silence that followed in America was deafening. On Tuesday, the Washington Post carried a brief letter from a reader in Bethesda, Maryland, Evan Scott Thomas, who wrote that the CIA should not pay members of foreign governments. Why have U.S. aid programs in that case? That was it.
This story has two aspects. One has to do with the situation in Afghanistan, while the other has broader, more universal implications.
To take the first aspect, Salehi was arrested last month by a joint American-British team of investigators on the charge of corruption. However, President Karzai intervened and Salehi was released. This is when his involvement with the CIA surfaced as well as many other questions: Does the right hand of U.S. policy in Afghanistan have any idea what the left hand is doing?
It would seem there is no cause for a scandal. Remember that since the winter of 2002 the United States and its allies have been waging a war in Afghanistan. The Karzai government was installed by the Americans, and it would be very strange for there to be no ties between Afghan administration officials and the CIA or other U.S. intelligence services. In effect, this is an occupying Afghan-American government. This is how the whole world and the Afghan people see the Afghan government. But since the goals of the war - rooting out extremism and terrorism -are shared by many countries, including Russia, this does not present a problem.
Competent journalists in the U.S. have been reminding readers that the CIA has been operating in this country for decades and has dozens of agents in the administration. But now they suddenly have nothing to say on this point.
The problem is that the Afghan government does not want to be perceived as a client of the U.S. It is doing a lot to shed this image and start down a new course, even if the people in the Afghan administration are the same. This explains the angry statement released by the presidential press service. Mohammad Omar Daudzai, the often overlooked but very influential head of the presidential administration, arranged a meeting with David Petraeus, the current ISAF and U.S. Forces Afghanistan commander, and told him that the Americans have to change their recently adopted strategy. The international forces should stop night raids on people's homes and keep out of their everyday life altogether. In the meantime, the United States has just developed a new definition of victory for the year - for soldiers to "become part of society."
Daudzai said it is important for the Afghan people to believe that Afghanistan is a sovereign state, where final decisions are made by President Hamid Karzai. (The gossip about the CIA paying ministers must stop, as Daudzai made very clear). Incidentally, for over a year Karzai has been seeking out new friends, like the Chinese, among others, despite the U.S. military presence.
And this brings us to the other aspect of this amusing story, which extends beyond Afghanistan. When anyone mentions the link between Afghan government officials and the secret services of even a friendly state, the government reacts furiously to appease public opinion. Remember in the nineties how a lot of new ideas appeared about the meaning of sovereignty, the prospects of a global world and the spread of the legislation of one state (that is, the United States and perhaps the European Union to some extent) beyond its borders. If the world is changing so much, is it such a big deal that your ministers are CIA agents? And who cares if they are citizens of a foreign state (the United States, of course)?
There were such cases in Russia involving dual citizenship in the 1990s, and nobody liked it. There was also a tradition in the 2000s of presidents, for example in Ukraine and Georgia, having foreign wives. And there was a story about the economic minister of Georgia, the 28 year-old Veronika Kabalia, on the stage of a strip club. She didn't do anything bad there, of course. The real question is how this Canadian Georgian became a minister in the first place?
Apparently, not all new ideas are good. The time has come to show more respect for traditional notions of government, citizenship and national interests.
RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.