Daily brief: Afghanistan ousts Kabul Bank managers

Too big to fail? Afghanistan’s Central Bank has taken control of the politically powerful private Kabul Bank, fearing the Kabul Bank is "dangerously short of cash and could falter," and ordered the bank’s chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, to hand over more than $150 million in luxury housing in Dubai that he had allegedly bought with the ...

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

Too big to fail?

Afghanistan's Central Bank has taken control of the politically powerful private Kabul Bank, fearing the Kabul Bank is "dangerously short of cash and could falter," and ordered the bank's chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, to hand over more than $150 million in luxury housing in Dubai that he had allegedly bought with the bank's money for well-connected Afghans, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother (WSJ, Post, NYT). The Central Bank reportedly forced the change in management after "unearthing evidence of a massive portfolio of off-the-books loans by [Farnood] to himself and to other politically connected Afghans," according to Afghan officials. Central Bank chief Abdul Qadir Fitrat said at a press conference earlier today that the Kabul Bank management was not forced out, but resigned because of new regulations forbidding shareholders from having senior positions (AFP, Pajhwok). The government of Afghanistan, Fitrat said, "will never allow [Kabul Bank] to collapse."

Although many local officials had dismissed the cases as "mass hysteria," tests have reportedly shown that victims in ten mass sickenings of Afghan schoolgirls across the country over the last two years had "toxic but not fatal levels" of organophosphates, chemicals found in herbicides, pesticides, and nerve gas, in their blood (NYT, AP). And a remote controlled bomb on a bicycle killed Mohammad Hassan Taimuri, the director of the local office in Kandahar that arranges the hajj, earlier today, while a candidate for parliament escaped an attack in the northern province of Faryab (AP, Pajhwok). Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September 18, and a convicted drug smuggler is reportedly still on the candidate lists (Pajhwok).

Too big to fail?

Afghanistan’s Central Bank has taken control of the politically powerful private Kabul Bank, fearing the Kabul Bank is "dangerously short of cash and could falter," and ordered the bank’s chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, to hand over more than $150 million in luxury housing in Dubai that he had allegedly bought with the bank’s money for well-connected Afghans, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother (WSJ, Post, NYT). The Central Bank reportedly forced the change in management after "unearthing evidence of a massive portfolio of off-the-books loans by [Farnood] to himself and to other politically connected Afghans," according to Afghan officials. Central Bank chief Abdul Qadir Fitrat said at a press conference earlier today that the Kabul Bank management was not forced out, but resigned because of new regulations forbidding shareholders from having senior positions (AFP, Pajhwok). The government of Afghanistan, Fitrat said, "will never allow [Kabul Bank] to collapse."

Although many local officials had dismissed the cases as "mass hysteria," tests have reportedly shown that victims in ten mass sickenings of Afghan schoolgirls across the country over the last two years had "toxic but not fatal levels" of organophosphates, chemicals found in herbicides, pesticides, and nerve gas, in their blood (NYT, AP). And a remote controlled bomb on a bicycle killed Mohammad Hassan Taimuri, the director of the local office in Kandahar that arranges the hajj, earlier today, while a candidate for parliament escaped an attack in the northern province of Faryab (AP, Pajhwok). Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September 18, and a convicted drug smuggler is reportedly still on the candidate lists (Pajhwok).

The official word

Oxfam, one of the biggest British aid groups working in Afghanistan, has suspended its operations in the northern province of Badashkan after two Afghan staffers and an Afghan volunteer were killed in a roadside bombing on Saturday (Guardian, AP, AFP). During a surprise visit to the country, British deputy PM Nick Clegg praised British troops in Helmand and reiterated that all British combat troops will leave Afghanistan by 2015 (BBC).

During last night’s Oval Office speech in which he declared an end to combat operations in Iraq, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the transition of security to Afghan control will begin next summer based on conditions on the ground, adding, "But make no mistake: this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s" (White House, AFP). Before the speech, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for patience in Afghanistan, emphasizing that combating corruption will be a priority over the next several months (Post). Karzai is reportedly angry at a corruption probe of one of his key aides (AP).

The Afghan government has asked its ambassador to the U.S., Said Jawad, to leave his post this month, after what he called a "smear campaign;" Afghan outlets published photos purportedly from an embassy party to celebrate Ramadan that included women wearing sleeveless dresses and alcohol being served (Post). Embassy officials say Jawad was on a trip to South America at the time of the alleged party, and the Afghan government has not given a reason for his removal; no successor has been named yet.

Miscommunication

A delegation of nine senior Pakistani military officials who planned to visit CENTCOM in Tampa has returned to Islamabad after the men were taken off a plane at Dulles and interrogated, after one of them made a comment to a flight attendant (Post, AP, Dawn, Geo). Dawn reports that United Airlines officials said a brigadier told the flight attendant that "This would be her last mission," but Pakistani officials say a general, perhaps tired from a long day of travel, remarked that, "I hope this is my last flight." The delegation has received apologies from the Pentagon and CENTCOM (Post).

Between three and five dozen suspected militants affiliated with Lashkar-e-Islam or members of their families were killed by Pakistani military airstrikes yesterday in the Tirah Valley of Khyber agency (The News, AP, Dawn, Daily Times, AP, AJE, AP). Militants who fled South Waziristan and Orakzai following military operations there are believed to have established new bases in Khyber.

And six Pakistani men have been convicted of criminal conspiracy for plotting to conduct a suicide attack designed to kill former Pakistani president Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2008 (Dawn). The six had accumulated more than 900 kg of explosives for their planned attack.

A long tail

As waters in Pakistan continue to empty into the Arabian Sea, the aftermath of five weeks of flooding is becoming apparent: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the damage is worth $43 billion, and predicted economic growth in Pakistan will fall by 2.5 percent (ET, AP, Reuters); the floods have moved landmines to new areas, increasing risks to Pakistanis (Dawn/AFP); more than 400 children have been separated from their families, and 8.6 million children have been affected (ET, The News); and the Pakistani government has decided to impose a two percent tax on imports and a five to ten percent surcharge on incomes more than Rs300,000, to generate revenue for reconstruction (Dawn).

Pakistan’s intelligence agency has reportedly blocked an offer of military aid from the U.K., in continued reaction to British PM David Cameron’s comments in July that Pakistan turns a "blind eye to some forms of terrorism" (Tel). Nick Clegg visited some relief camps in Sukkur, warning of a "long tail" for the disaster (BBC).

Flashpoint

One Indian Army officer was reportedly killed and three injured in a 20 hour long gun battle with suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters in northern Kashmir (Hindu, PTI). A curfew has been lifted across the valley with the exception of the southern town of Anantnag, where an 11 year old boy was shot and killed by Indian security forces recently, sparking protests (Hindu).

Cosmetic changes

Female candidates for Afghanistan’s parliament have been disparaged for wearing makeup in their campaign posters, which critics claim is a technique to lure young voters and/or disguise a weak platform (Pajhwok). Some of the women running for office have defended themselves, saying that wearing makeup is a "trend among women" and that the posters were printed by supporters.

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