Kin Selection
October 06, 2010, 10:00 PM
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From the New York Times, a good story about the extended family of the U.S.-installed President of Afghanistan:
Karzai's Kin Use Ties to Gain Power in Afghanistan

By JAMES RISEN

... Of the seven sons of Abdul Ahad Karzai, a prominent Kandahar politician who lived in exile in Quetta, Pakistan, until his 1999 assassination by the Taliban, only one — Hamid Karzai — had never lived in the United States. By 2001, a generation of Karzais who had grown up in the United States and knew little of Afghanistan was emerging.

But after the American-led invasion of Afghanistan ousted the Taliban in 2001 and lifted Hamid Karzai from obscurity to the presidency, the family’s migration pattern reversed. Only one of his brothers, Abdul Wali Karzai, a biochemistry professor at Stony Brook University in New York, declined to go back home. Many others seized the opportunity. ...

WASHINGTON — Until recently, Taj Ayubi’s specialty was retail. Mr. Ayubi, an Afghan immigrant, ran a furniture store in Leesburg, Va., and before that, a thrift shop in Washington.

But today, Mr. Ayubi’s specialty is foreign policy. He is the senior foreign affairs adviser to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

Among Mr. Ayubi’s qualifications for his post in Kabul are ties to President Karzai’s extended family. His sister is married to a Karzai, and her sons are now important junior members of the growing Karzai family network in Afghanistan.

In recent years, dozens of Karzai family members and close allies have taken government jobs, pursued business interests or worked as contractors to the United States government, allowing them to shape policy or financially benefit from it.

While the roles played by two of President Karzai’s brothers — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the power broker of Kandahar, and Mahmoud Karzai, a prominent businessman and investor in the troubled Kabul Bank — have been well documented, the extensive web of other family members has not previously been reported. Most of them lived in the United States before going to Afghanistan, leveraging the president’s position to put them at the center of a new oligarchy of powerful Afghan families.

... The family’s expanding presence serves both to strengthen and to undermine President Karzai, according to American and Afghan officials. Corruption allegations taint his government, and Afghans routinely accuse him of turning a blind eye to the activities of some of his relatives. ....

Ronald E. Neumann, the United States ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, said he believed that President Karzai intended to create a support network that could help him survive after the withdrawal of American troops, the same way that another Afghan president, Najibullah, survived for years after Soviet troops withdrew in 1989. �Karzai is convinced that we are going to abandon him,� Mr. Neumann said. �What’s his answer? To create a web of loyalties and militia commanders and corrupt families all knitted together.�

�This network,� he added, �is part of his survival mechanism.�

... �Family politics is part of the culture of this part of the world,� said Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani author who has written extensively about Afghanistan. �Right now, Afghanistan is going through a phase of very primitive capital accumulation by the country’s leading families.�

... One Afghan Parliament member said family members exploited their connections to get in on favorable business ventures. �They have carte blanche to be partners with anyone they want to; it’s the unwritten law,� said the official, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. �Anyone who wants to start a business and has problems becomes partners with them.� ...

With so many Karzais flooding back into the country, tensions and rivalries have emerged among them, according to several family members. Rateb Popal, for example, has been feuding with Mahmoud Karzai, and in interviews, Mr. Popal, who served a prison sentence in New York on drug-related charges in the 1990s, accused Mahmoud Karzai and the president of undermining his business deals.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Karzais are Pathans, who are notorious for their self-destructive individualistic rivalrousness even at the nuclear family level. Consider the Pathan proverb: When the floodwaters reach your chin, put your son beneath your feet. A famous phrase often associated with the Pathans is, of course: I against my brother, my brother and I against my cousin, we three against the world. That kind of thinking explains a lot about why Afghanistan is the way it is.

But the Karzais appear to be more like the rest of humanity in that their extended family is pretty good at working together for their mutual benefit. By Pathan standards, the Karzais are practically Rothschilds. Granted, when you have the U.S. Army and the CIA at your beck and call, you ought to be able to do pretty well for yourselves. But a lot of Pathan families, if granted the use of the World's Only Superpower as their personal piggy bank, would have, literally, gone to war with each other. So, the Karzais are clearly a cut above the Pathan norm.

I've noticed that a lot of the new immigrants in LA are rather like the Karzais: they're Caucasians from West Asia or Eastern Europe, and they're definitely not peasants. They are typically from Old Country political and/or mercantile elites. They remain plugged into complex multinational social structures that we poor dumb Americans can only begin to fathom.