KABUL: US inspectors are on the trail of a successful Afghan businessman they believe has channelled millions of dollars in aid to the Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, one of the deadliest insurgent groups in Afghanistan, but still has donor-funded reconstruction contracts around the country.
The investigation, detailed in a trove of documents obtained by Reuters, comes at a crucial time for Afghanistan and its foreign allies, who have poured billions of dollars into leaving behind a stable, viable state when most Nato-led combat troops pull out next year.
Development aid to Afghanistan - approaching $100bn after 12 years of war - and the contractors who receive it are being scrutinised by the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), with one case in particular involving businessman Haji Khalil Zadran linked to the Haqqanis.
“It makes absolutely no sense that individuals and entities designated as supporting the insurgency could receive US contracts,” John Sopko, the chief of the US watchdog agency, said.
“If they get a contract not only do they get US taxpayer money, but they could gain access to US personnel and facilities, putting our troops at risk,” he said.
Zadran rejects the allegations, saying it is simply a case of mistaken identity. SIGAR believes Zadran’s case is one of dozens that show a sinister side to the story of how endemic corruption, a charge often levelled at President Hamid Karzai’s government, has undermined efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.
Zadran left school to drive trucks and went on to build an empire that has won more than $125m in donour-funded construction projects.
His fortune should reflect the potential for success in post-war Afghanistan. Instead, the SIGAR investigation paints a picture of how aid has been siphoned off to maintain a web of corruption, violence and failure.
The inability over many years to stop firms believed to be supporting the insurgency from winning multi-million-dollar contracts exposes the lack of control that donors have over cash once it is handed over to the Afghan government.
Those transfers make up an increasing proportion of aid. US federal agencies want more than $10.7bn for reconstruction programmes in 2014, SIGAR says, and the government has promised at least half will be granted directly to Afghan institutions to spend as they see fit.
Much of the evidence against Zadran is classified, but the cache of documents given to Reuters by US officials on condition of anonymity show that he has close business ties with the Haqqani network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani.
The Haqqanis, Islamist insurgents who operate on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, are believed to have introduced suicide bombing into Afghanistan.
The links between Zadran and the insurgency include him teaming up with Saadullah Khan and Brothers Engineering and Construction Company (SKB), believed to be one of Sirajuddin Haqqani’s companies.
Together they won a $15m contract to help build a road between the towns of Gardez and Khost in Afghanistan’s east for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2011.
“The owners of these companies are facilitators and commanders of the Haqqani Network,” one US government memorandum says.
Zadran says he approached SKB Chief Executive Kamal Naser Khan because they had already worked together on the construction of an airport in Faizabad in northeastern Afghanistan in 2009.
Zadran confirmed the contracts and partnerships, but said that alone did not constitute proof he financed the Haqqanis.
On the contrary, he said, it was fortunate the US auditors had alerted him because it had saved him from becoming involved.