Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, a suspected player in the country's booming illegal opium trade, has been getting regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the last eight years, according to the New York Times.
The US spy agency pays Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the CIA's direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Karzai's home, it said in a report Wednesday from Kabul citing current and former American officials.
The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Karzai raise significant questions about America's war strategy, the influential US daily said. The CIA's practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban, it said.
Ahmed Wali Karzai told the Times in an interview that he cooperated with American civilian and military officials, but did not engage in the drug trade and did not receive payments from the CIA.
The relationship between Karzai and the CIA is wide ranging, several unnamed American officials were cited as saying. He helps the CIA operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists.
On at least one occasion, the strike force has been accused of mounting an unauthorized operation against an official of the Afghan government; the daily said citing unnamed officials.
Karzai is also paid for allowing the CIA and American Special Operations troops to rent a large compound outside the city - the former home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's founder.
The same compound is also the base of the Kandahar Strike Force. "He's our landlord," the Times quoted an unnamed senior American official as saying.
Karzai also helps the CIA communicate with and sometimes meet with Afghans loyal to the Taliban, the daily said.
The Times said Karzai's role as those who support working with Karzai, as the Obama administration is placing a greater focus on encouraging Taliban leaders to change sides, now regard a go-between between the Americans and the Taliban as valuable.