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Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai says he intervened to secure release of imprisoned aide

By Matt DeLong
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 23, 2010; A07

Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted Sunday to intervening on behalf of one of his top aides imprisoned on corruption charges.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Karzai secured the release of the aide, Mohammad Zia Salehi, who was arrested on the orders of Karzai's attorney general, according to Afghan officials. A Karzai adviser initially denied the president's involvement.

"Yes, absolutely I intervened," Karzai said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "Not only did I intervene, but I intervened very, very strongly."

Karzai said Salehi was taken from his home by armed men in the middle of the night and thrown into prison, likening the tactic to those employed by the former Soviet Union during its occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Karzai and his administration have come under fire for criticizing the work of two U.S.-backed anti-corruption teams, the Major Crimes Task Force and the Special Investigative Unit, and for saying he would exert control over their work.

Salehi, who works with Afghanistan's national security council, was arrested on allegations of soliciting a bribe to help shut down an investigation into a politically connected money-transfer business.

He was also under investigation for allegedly doling out cash and vehicles from a palace fund, the officials said.

Karzai also defended his decision to disband private security companies working in his country by the end of the year, saying they were "running a parallel security structure to the Afghan government." He blamed the companies for undermining the growth of Afghanistan's army and police forces.

Karzai said that the war against the Taliban and other insurgent groups is "absolutely winnable," adding that while his government has "individual contacts" within the Taliban, there is not yet a "formal process" for negotiating with the militants.

The Afghan leader said he was "shocked" to hear of the stoning deaths of a couple by the Taliban and said the incident represented a failure of his government to "give protection to the Afghan people."

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