- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Endemic corruption remains Afghanistan’s “biggest problem,” and everyone against whom there is evidence of wrongdoing must be prosecuted, including President Hamid Karzai’s brother, the State Department’s top official for South Asia said Tuesday.

Although Richard A. Boucher said he has not seen specific evidence implicating Wali Karzai in drug trafficking, as has been reported, he urged the Afghan authorities to treat all suspects equally.

“If he is, then he needs to be prosecuted,” Mr. Boucher told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

According to secret U.S. military documents dating as far back as 2005, Wali Karzai received “money from drug lords as bribe to facilitate their work and movement.” At the time, he denied the accusations.

“I was never in the drug business, I never benefited, I never facilitated, I never helped anyone with the transportation of any kind,” he said.

Mr. Boucher said that the main goal of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan is to extend the authority of the central government into as many provinces as possible, but corruption remains a major obstacle.

“Corruption is probably the biggest problem,” he said. “Corruption is endemic, but everywhere it not only undercuts economic efficiency but the opinion people have of government.”

Mr. Boucher, who is assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, said that, while “some ministries are really capable now,” others are still problematic. But he rejected the notion that most officials are corrupt in one way or another.

“If you say every minister is corrupt, I’ll argue. If you say every judge is corrupt, I’ll argue and say it’s probably not quite everyone,” he said. “After seven years, the country is increasingly coming together.”

Although the Taliban still has influence in some parts of the country, most Afghans prefer the government’s authority over the militant militia, Mr. Boucher said.

“Polls are overwhelmingly negative on the Taliban, but nonetheless, people, because of intimidation or the lack of any alternative, accept some jurisdiction of the Taliban,” he said.

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