KABUL (Reuters) - A U.S. newspaper report that said a key national security adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai was being paid by the CIA is an insult to Afghanistan aimed at discrediting Karzai’s government, his office said on Saturday.
Citing Afghan and U.S. officials, the New York Times reported Thursday that Mohammed Zia Salehi, who is under investigation for allegedly soliciting bribes, appears to have been paid by the U.S. spy agency for many years.
“Afghanistan’s government ... considers such an assertion an insult,” a statement from Karzai office’s said. “We strongly condemn such irresponsible publicity which creates suspicion and doubt and discredits officials of our country.”
Salehi was arrested by Afghan police in a dawn raid in July as part of investigations into corruption — a major source of tension between Karzai and his U.S. backers — but was released after the Afghan leader intervened.
The statement said the claim was part of an effort to deflect attention from tasks such as banning foreign security firms, a populist measure Karzai announced this month. Afghanistan faces parliamentary elections on September 18 and such firms have long been an irritant for many Afghans.
The private security companies have been given four months to pack up, a decree which drew criticism from Washington.
“This is part of the routine politics of foreign newsmongering outlets and their spy agencies who try to influence other nations,” the palace statement said.
The New York Times report said it was unclear whether Salehi was being paid for information or to advance U.S. views inside the Karzai administration, or both.
Friday, The Washington Post reported that the CIA was making payments to a significant number of people in Karzai’s administration.
Citing current and former U.S. officials, it said the payments were long-standing in many cases and intended to help the agency maintain a source of information within the Afghan government.
The Obama administration fears corruption is boosting the Taliban-led insurgency and complicating efforts to strengthen central government control so that U.S. and other foreign troops can begin drawing down numbers in July 2011.
The war, which has brought growing civilian and military casualties, is becoming increasingly unpopular in the United States and could help cost the ruling Democratic party seats in November Congressional elections.
Reporting by Andrew Hammond and Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Paul Tait