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Afghanistan's Drug Prosecutor Faces Death Threats and Mountains of Paperwork Daily

  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    KABUL — Even though he goes to his office in an armored vehicle escorted by several guards, Yar Mohammad Hussainkhel takes a different route every morning, hoping to confuse the many enemies who want to kill him.

    Once Mr. Hussainkhel arrives at the fortified compound in the north of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, his routine is largely the same: He sits behind his desk, puts on his spectacles and begins his work as the chief drug prosecutor in a country that produces more than 80 percent of the world’s opium and has consistently ranked among the worst in corruption indexes.

    Once Mr. Hussainkhel arrives at the fortified compound in the north of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, his routine is largely the same: He sits behind his desk, puts on his spectacles and begins his work as the chief drug prosecutor in a country that produces more than 80 percent of the world’s opium and has consistently ranked among the worst in corruption indexes.

    One Tuesday in August, Mr. Hussainkhel, a 9-millimeter pistol at his side, ordered a coffee heavy on milk and sugar and began reviewing case after case that his prosecutors, nearly half of them women, brought to his door. The roughly 30 cases he reviews every day provide a window onto the increasingly blurred lines of trafficking, insurgency and Afghanistan’s deeply entrenched system of graft, bribery and impunity: Fifteen police officers from Nimruz Province, a wild border area, arrested on suspicion of skimming 220 pounds of drugs after a raid; a smuggler in Ghor Province caught trying to strike a deal with a narcotics officer to swap the pure confiscated drugs in the police depot with counterfeit ones; two army officers arrested in the north on charges of transporting 145 pounds of hashish and 13 pounds of opium in an army pickup.

    Earlier that Tuesday morning, two intelligence officials had come to question a man caught with 529 pounds of opium in the vast deserts of Helmand Province. The officials believe that the man is also behind some of the most brazen Taliban attacks in Helmand. Days earlier, the British Embassy in Kabul had sent an official warning to Mr. Hussainkhel: There had been a meeting of smugglers in which the elimination of prosecutors had been discussed. It had not been just talk, either; the smugglers had met with Taliban operatives in charge of suicide bombings in Kabul.

    Some of the threats have been so serious that Mr. Hussainkhel did not go home for weeks, either staying in his fortified office or finding another house to spend the night.

    “If they are after me, I don’t want them to follow me home where my family is,” he said. “My family shouldn’t suffer because of me.”

    Mr. Hussainkhel’s office is in the Counter Narcotics Justice Center, a sort of one-stop shop in the campaign against Afghanistan’s ever-soaring production of opium. Built with a share of the more than $7 billion that the United States has spent on fighting drugs here, it has a 364-bed detention center and a unit of 41 prosecutors led by Mr. Hussainkhel, as well as special primary and secondary courts. The detention center also has a well-equipped barber shop. Several months ago, Mr. Hussainkhel had the implanted hair of a detainee cut off. Policy, he explained.

    More than 20 percent of the prisoners in Afghanistan are narcotics offenders, and they are prosecuted at the center — or, as Mr. Hussainkhel proudly proclaims, “with my pen.” The major drug cases from across the country are the work of an elite police unit that works with the American Drug Enforcement Administration. United States officials also work closely with the center, and a State Department report called it one of the “premier judicial institutions” among institutions beleaguered by widespread corruption.

    Mr. Hussainkhel says he has been offered his weight in dollar bills. His agency has arrested people who took money from smugglers, promising to have Mr. Hussainkhel cut short their sentences. They have even arrested a man who forged Mr. Hussainkhel’s signature.

    “There are deals being made out there, over my name,” Mr. Hussainkhel said, smiling.

    The center is watched closely by its foreign donors, and prosecutors are well paid and subject to occasional polygraph tests. Still, corruption, in its many tempting and intimidating forms, lurks outside the door and on the other end of the telephone. Mr. Hussainkhel’s office once handled the case of the Nimruz police chief who was charged in a scheme in which he was accused of accepting bribes to let some traffickers go, then selling their drugs to other traffickers.

    The general had friends in high places: After getting a call from the vice president’s office, Mr. Hussainkhel’s boss, the attorney general, ordered the general’s release. The center’s British advisers begged Mr. Hussainkhel to keep the general in custody long enough for their superiors in London to wake up and intervene with Hamid Karzai, the president at the time. Mr. Hussainkhel said he ordered members of his staff to turn off their phones, stop communication with the attorney general, and hand over the case to the primary court as quickly as possible. Once in the courts, the general could not be released without due process.

    Some question whether Mr. Hussainkhel, a high-profile figure in a line of work that is both dangerous and notoriously vulnerable to bribery, is as clean as he seems.

    “Yar Mohammed knows which side of the bread has the butter,” said Gary Collins, who for three years worked as a senior adviser in Afghanistan for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “His decisions will take that into consideration.” Mr. Hussainkhel, father of six boys and five girls, agrees that “not everyone can stand up to the flood of corruption,” but insists he has been able to do that because he is well-off, having inherited land from his grandfather. “If I am implicated, I can’t lead those around me with the confidence that I do,” he said. “The way I have led this place, I haven’t given them a chance to turn us into a joke. That is something I can’t tolerate.”

    Mr. Hussainkhel was born in 1962 in the Bagrami district of Kabul. He was just 10 years old when his father died, leaving behind two wives and eight children. Mr. Hussainkhel went to military school and rose in the ranks before deciding to study law on the side. He eventually became a military prosecutor.

    “Anything that I have learned, it was at the military,” he said. “There, everyone was the same in front of the law, whether you were an average citizen or the commanding general’s son.”

    But he said he became disillusioned with the military justice system after his investigation of a murder near a military base was blocked in the early years of the Karzai government. It was no longer the old military, the military he knew, he said. But his strong-handed style has served him well on the civilian side. One case in particular brought him to the attention of Mr. Karzai, leading to his elevation to his current position.

    The contracts for a few government shops near the presidential palace had long expired, but the tenants refused to move out so the property could be put up for new bids. The case dragged on for nearly four years, much to Mr. Karzai’s frustration. “If my order cannot be implemented just outside my palace, how can I expect it to be implemented in Oruzgan and Helmand,” Mr. Karzai told aides.

    Mr. Hussainkhel was newly appointed as the prosecutor for the part of Kabul that included both the shops and the presidential palace. He said he realized that his staff had been taking payoffs from the shopkeepers to drag out the case. Mr. Hussainkhel went to the shops with members of his staff and the police. The shopkeepers agreed to move out by the end of the day. His secret? The threat of humiliation, he said.

    “I made a scene. I ordered my staff to throw their goods onto the street, block the road, so when the president’s motorcade passes, he realizes he has a prosecutor,” Mr. Hussainkhel said with a smile.



    By Mujid Mashal - The NY Times/Nov. 13, 2015
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/14/w...d-death-threats.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0
    Photo: Linsey Addario
    Newshawk Crew

    About Author

    Beenthere2Hippie
    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.

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