KABUL (Reuters) - Leaked diplomatic cables that describe Afghan President Hamid Karzai as “extremely weak” and his brother as a corrupt drug trafficker won’t strain ties with Washington, Karzai’s spokesman said on Monday.
The secret messages from Kabul to Washington also allege that a former vice-president fled the country with over $50 million in cash, cables and media reports about the cache of documents say.
Karzai’s spokesman shrugged off comments in the first round of leaks, but acknowledged there was still room for damage.
“It won’t have a noticeable effect on our broader strategic relationship with the U.S.,” spokesman Waheed Omer told a news conference in Kabul.
“There is not much in the documents to surprise us and we don’t see anything substantive that will strain our relationship, but there is more still to come.”
Only a handful of over 250,000 documents given to a small group of international media have been released so far, but they paint a particularly negative picture of the President’s half brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, a major power broker in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
“While we must deal with AWK as the head of the Provincial Council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker,” says one confidential cable from Kabul, dated October 2009 and signed off by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.
The president himself appears to be dismissed as ineffectual prone to believing conspiracy theories.
“An extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him,” Britain’s Guardian newspaper quoted one undated cable description saying of the man who has ruled Afghanistan for nearly a decade.
The U.S. embassy in Kabul condemned the release but like Karzai said it would not affect the relationship.
“Our shared goals do not change based on the release of purported diplomatic reporting from the past,” Eikenberry said in a statement on Monday.
The harsh comments are unlikely to come as a surprise to many in Kabul, where tensions with the U.S. are well known.
The most recent rift came ahead of the Lisbon summit earlier this month, when Karzai called for an end to NATO night raids. Top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus said the comments seriously undermined the war effort.
But their publication may shake up the Kabul government.
“The documents are very important and sensitive in terms of governance in Afghanistan and will raise many questions,” said Wahid Mujhda, a Kabul-based political analyst and author.
The cables also accuse the younger Karzai, who has extensive business ties as well as his official post and has long been accused of amassing a fortune from the drugs trade, of lying.
“While he presented himself as a partner to the United States and is eager to be seen as helping the coalition, he also demonstrated that he will dissemble when it suits his needs,” a cable sent after a meeting in February this year said.
“He appears not to understand the level of our knowledge of his activities, and that the coalition views many of his activities as malign,” the report added.
Ahmad Wali Karzai referred comment on the cables to a lawyer who did not immediately respond. He has always strongly denied any involvement with narcotics and the Afghan president says the accusations against him have never been proved.
Editing by Paul Tait