The only thing dominating the news in Afghanistan after the London Olympics 2012 Afghan players’ wins and losses is the corruption scandal of Omar Zakhilwal, Afghanistan’s Finance Minister.
Rising to power overnight like all others in the Karzai government, Omar Zakhilwal’s corruption allegations are not the first and certainly will not be the last Afghanistan will see. The news broke out on national TV last week and ever since, it has been the hot subject of ongoing discussion on social media and local Afghan TV channels – channels that have finally found something worth reporting. But is it really worth reporting? Is Zakhilwal the sacrificial lamb or the wolf in wool?
If the allegations are genuine, then yes, Afghan citizens need to know the full story but the way in which this case was reported was mishandled from the start. I am not standing up for Zakhilwal but it is worth considering how any of us would feel if our personal bank statements were leaked into the media and displayed for the whole nation to see. Not to mention each and every bank transaction carefully highlighted. This, without a doubt, constitutes a gross infringement of one’s right to privacy. Irrespective of how corrupt Zakhilwal might be, there was no reason for the media to disclose his personal bank statements on national TV. The same case could have easily been handled with much dignity and the same news reported without Zakhilwal’s bank statements flashed in the news over and over again every single day for a week. But wait, who said we handle things in a dignified manner in Afghanistan?
Slandering, spreading lies and rumours, exponentially multiplying the rumours, and creating a falsified image of our public figures is commonplace in Afghanistan – a country where the appetite for revenge is only just behind the fake smiles and lousy handshakes, and the desire to feed that appetite by enjoying every second of someone else’s misery. If you are an Afghan reading this, you know better.
As bad as it might seem for him, Omar Zakhilwal is one of the lucky ones for many reasons for adopting the title of a corrupt politician. Many before him were not only labelled corrupt, but also warlords and war criminals (if they had anything remotely to do with the uprising against the former Soviet-backed regimes), ethnic fascists or foreign puppets to name a few of these famous titles. Firstly, Zakhilwal came to Afghanistan with a strong western backing. Secondly, he is a political opportunist who did not hesitate to join the wagon and call anti-taliban group leaders “warlords” on Canadian news channels when he used to be called in to give interviews as an “expert” on Afghanistan after 9/11 – let us not forget that pointing fingers at anyone with a beard and a turban was a hot topic at the time and that Zakhilwal himself was once part of those anti-taliban and anti-Soviet groups. This tactic worked very well to seduce the west and gain grounds to his newly found career in Afghan politics.
Unfortunately for Afghanistan, Zakhilwal has always been one of the many quick-fixes and short-term solutions to Afghanistan’s long-term problems that were introduced to Afghanistan after 9/11 with strong backing from the international community. He is just one of the many of the post-9/11 Afghan patriots who only remembered Afghanistan after the world started learning to pronounce our country’s name when the 9/11 attacks happened. The longevity of the political careers of these post-9/11 Afghan patriots is only as long as the western interest in Afghanistan, regardless of any support from the Afghan people or their competence in their jobs, much less as world leaders.
In his defensive interviews and press conferences, Zakhilwal has been claiming that he earned the USD $1 million from his former jobs as a highly paid international consultant and from his ‘private business’. If that the case, would it fair to assume that other western consultants working in Afghanistan are also millionaires? I think not. I believe Zakhilwal’s statement is a desperate plea and a miserable attempt to defend himself. If he is innocent and he knows it, why give so much attention to such news? The more attention he is giving to the allegations, the more reasons Afghan media is getting to keep probing further into this case.
Tears of Despair
What is up with our politicians shedding tears to gain sympathy? Others have done the same. And why call a press conference with western diplomats as your audience to defend yourself and cry to them? In Afghanistan, that is the right move if you want your political career to go straight to its grave. Does Omar Zakhilwal service his western backers or the Afghan public who entrust that he will make the right decisions and keep the country’s drowning financial system afloat? Surely he feels indebted to his western supporters, whose support he has had from the start of his political career and without it, he would still be in one of his former jobs. Afghans have yet to know much about the dodgy backgrounds of these new faces in the Afghan political scene like Zakhilwal and other post-9/11 Afghan patriots struggling to gain support from the suspicious Afghan public.
Even with all the negative publicity inside Afghanistan, Zakhilwal is – not surprisingly – being portrayed in a very positive light in the western media as the “reformer” and a “technocrat”. I guess the alleged corruption case against him and the disappearance of millions of dollars of western tax payers’ money in Afghanistan is not enough for western media to hold the western-endorsed Afghan politicians accountable. Survival in Afghanistan’s rough, cut-throat politics is going to need people with very thick skin who will not run crying to their western supporters when only the tip of their icebergs is revealed.
Rest assured, we can expect a lot more scandals coming our way in Afghanistan.