When bankers are more dangerous than warlords

By Felix Salmon
September 2, 2010
Amy Davidson has a good round-up of the tragic bank run at Kabul Bank, which is threatening not only the largest and most important bank in Afghanistan but also what remains of that country's shattered political economy. But you can pretty much learn everything you need to know from reading two sentences from the excellent WaPo report:

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Amy Davidson has a good round-up of the tragic bank run at Kabul Bank, which is threatening not only the largest and most important bank in Afghanistan but also what remains of that country’s shattered political economy. But you can pretty much learn everything you need to know from reading two sentences from the excellent WaPo report:

Speaking Wednesday from his villa in Dubai, which was paid for by Kabul Bank, Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s brother, said cash withdrawals from the bank were a “little bit more than usual” but did not threaten to cause a meltdown. A full-scale run on Kabul Bank, he added, “would be a major disaster.”

Yes, the president’s brother is a part owner of the bank, and he’s living in Dubai, in a villa paid for by the bank — which, incidentally, handles the payroll for Afghan soldiers and schoolteachers — and really, what could possibly go wrong?

As the FCIC revisits the Lehman Brothers failure for the umpteenth time, the U.S. is faced with yet another decision about whether or not to bail out a bank whose failure could have enormous systemic consequences. Is there any precedent for one country bailing out another country’s bank? Would the money come from Treasury or from the Pentagon? And how on earth would such an action play in the midterm elections?

It’s all extremely fraught, but the conclusion to the WaPo story pretty much sums it up, I think.

One senior Afghan official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that he had hoped for the best but that “the worst is happening.”

America is certainly finding the military strategy in Afghanistan hard going. But could it be that the country will finally be undone by it bankers?

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