Afghan minister accused of abuses to become new intelligence chief


McClatchy Newspapers

An Afghan Cabinet minister dogged by torture allegations is slated to become the new chief of Afghanistan’s notorious intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security.

The appointment of Asadullah Khalid, the minister of border and tribal affairs, will be announced within days by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said a man who knows Khalid. A former senior government official who’s close to Karzai told McClatchy that “Khalid’s appointment has been confirmed.”

Both men spoke only on the condition of anonymity, as they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Khalid was the governor of the restive southern province of Kandahar, where troops from Canada were based, from 2005 to 2008. He had a notorious reputation among many Kandaharis, who say he abducted and tortured personal and political opponents, but he’s consistently denied any involvement in such activity.

In April 2010 the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said suspicions had been widespread during Khalid’s tenure in Kandahar that “the feared governor kept a private dungeon for prisoners under his palace.” The CBC quoted top-level Canadian government documents that showed Canadian authorities had known in spring 2007 about claims of serious human-rights abuses by Khalid.

“Allegations of human rights abuses by the governor are numerous and consistent,” said one document from spring 2007. “According to multiple sources, including the U.K. embassy, the private detention centre is located under the governor’s guest house.”

Also in April 2010, Canada’s newspaper The Globe and Mail quoted a former official who’d served under Khalid at the governor’s palace in Kandahar as saying he’d seen a prisoner in a guard room hanging from the ceiling “trussed like a chicken.” The Globe and Mail quoted another man as saying he was among those detained at the palace and “endured weeks of beatings supervised by the governor himself.”

Khalid was removed a few months later, but he’s remained a powerful figure in Afghanistan.

If he’s confirmed as Karzai’s choice for National Directorate of Security director, and he survives a parliamentary vote of confidence, his appointment probably will spark concern among human rights groups in Afghanistan and abroad. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations have accused the National Directorate of Security of torturing detainees. The appointment of someone with Khalid’s reputation could suggest that Karzai isn’t serious about reforming the agency.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan last October reported “compelling” evidence that 125 detainees – 46 percent of 273 detainees it interviewed who’d been in National Directorate of Security detention – had experienced torture. A number of countries in the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, including Britain and New Zealand, have ordered their soldiers not to transfer detainees to some National Directorate of Security departments for fear of complicity in torture.

The former senior Afghan government official who’s close to Karzai told McClatchy that the president’s choice of Khalid was a mistake. He suggested that Western nations wouldn’t support the decision and that it might not be welcomed by the United States, which had funded and worked closely with the National Directorate of Security.

“I am not sure that the Americans will maintain their support for the NDS under Khalid,” the former official said. “He has many shortcomings, including that he is brutal.”

Others have suggested that pressure from the United States to urgently tackle the Taliban-led insurgency is precisely the reason that Karzai has selected Khalid.

A writer at the Kabul Politics blog claimed that Karzai had fired the former National Directorate of Security director, Rahmatullah Nabil, because of U.S. anger over the directorate’s apparent failure to stem the increasing number of “green on blue” attacks – in which Afghan security personnel turn their weapons on their coalition counterparts – and that the United States promoted Khalid as a suitable replacement.

However, the former senior government official close to Karzai said Khalid and one of Karzai’s brothers, Abdul Qayum, had been involved in secret talks with Saudi Arabia in an effort to involve the Saudis in peace negotiations with the Taliban. He said that appointing Khalid to the directorate job “is just another step in this direction.”

He said Karzai was well aware of Khalid’s background and the numerous allegations of criminality, and that he would have appointed Khalid thinking that the advantages of doing so outweighed the disadvantages.

“The president must have done his calculations,” the former official said.

Stephenson is a McClatchy special correspondent.

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