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updated 12/4/2010 7:31:43 PM ET 2010-12-05T00:31:43

Afghanistan's finance minister warned Saturday that the release of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks would hurt U.S.-Afghan relations.

Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal also denied calling President Hamid Karzai "an extremely weak man" as reported in a U.S. Embassy cable dated Feb. 26, 2010.

Zakhilwal said it would not be "business as usual" between key Afghan ministers and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

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The cable was among a tranche released by the WikiLeaks website.

Together, they portray Afghanistan as rife with graft to the highest levels of government.

Karzai, known to be sensitive about his team's loyalty, is thought likely to be infuriated by the idea of his cabinet discussing his flaws, making deals behind his back and sharing concerns with a U.S. embassy considered highly critical of his rule.

Pardoning drug dealers
In the "weak man" cable, Zakhilwal was said to have remarked that Karzai did not listen to facts.

According to the document, Zakhilwal said Karzai's inner circle had agreed to "collaborate to influence Karzai when they see him going astray," and support each other if they faced the president's anger for raising sensitive issues.

The cables contain allegations Karzai colluded in the intimidation of a senior official, and "ashamed" his Chief of Staff Umar Daudzai by pardoning narcotraffickers for political reasons, according to Britain's Guardian newspaper.

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One cable reported Education Minister Farooq Wardak had said Karzai's electoral reform after a presidential poll marred by widespread fraud "was comparable to the power-grabs of the mujahedin in 1991-1992.," referring to leaders in the country's vicious civil war.

"(The comments) will feed into Karzai's sense of isolation and his distrust of those officials that he fears are too close to the foreigners," said Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

"Those quoted will probably try to argue that they were talking to an American audience, giving them what they wanted to hear. But the personal attacks on Karzai, the ones saying he is weak and paranoid, will probably stick," she added.

The leak of cables came at a time of rising violence and heightened mistrust between Karzai and his Western backers, more than nine years into an unpopular war critics say cannot be won.

Both governments played down the impact of previously released cables earlier this week, but Karzai was expected to reshuffle his cabinet soon so ministers could face punishment.

Bribery allegations
Karzai's domestic critics did not themselves escape censure in cables that portray state corruption as the new norm.

A January cable detailing the likely line-up of Karzai's new cabinet described the agriculture minister as "the only minister that was confirmed about whom no allegations of bribery exist."

Another cable detailed how the transportation ministry collects $200 million a year in trucking fees but only $30 million is turned over to the government — information sourced to Mines Minister Wahidullah Shahrani.

"Individuals pay up to $250,000 for the post heading the office in Herat, for example, and end up owning beautiful mansions as well as making lucrative political donations," it said.

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The New York Times also quoted a former Afghan vice president denying accusations in one of the cables that he flew to the United Arab Emirates with $52 million in cash.

Questions about weak governance and corruption have long driven a wedge between Karzai and the Western leaders who have nearly 150,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, although many of the faults highlighted in the U.S. documents are well known.

But Washington has other problems with its Afghan partner.

Eikenberry detailed poor leadership and America-bashing from Karzai, said he was "paranoid and weak" and accused him of failing to grasp the "most rudimentary principles of state-building," which is key to the U.S. mission.

"His deep seated insecurity as a leader combine to make any admission of fault unlikely, in turn confounding our best efforts to find in Karzai a responsible partner," Eikenberry wrote in a July 2009 cable detailed by The New York Times.

Around 1,400 U.S. soldiers have died in the fighting since the war began in late 2001.

The U.S. strategy rests on creating enough security for the Afghan state to win the loyalty of ordinary people, who otherwise may support the Taliban movement.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Defiant Assange fights legal, online attacks

  1. Closed captioning of: Defiant Assange fights legal, online attacks

    >> israel.

    >>> he is one of the most wanted men in the world and tonight an arrest may be imminent for julian assange, the man behind wiki leaks and there are new problems for his website which have gone public with millions of military and diplomatic records. peter alexander is live in london for us with the latest.

    >> lester, good evening to you. even as julian assange's window is closing. the newest documents release detail extensive computer hacking operations o ridge nating in china. why were chinese leaders so obsessed with the web? because according to the cables they were googling themselves and unhappy with the criticisms they found. even as julian assange reveals more document, threatening damage and embarrassment to the u.s. and its allies, the legal process to detain the wikileaks founder for allegations of sex crimes is moving forward.

    >> in case he's arrested he will fight the extradition from whatever country he's arrested in.

    >> while assange battles for his personal freedom , he's also fighting to keep his site online. the latest technical difficulty? the website pay pal cut access to doning as to wikileaks saying its service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to ebb gaungage in illegal activities . meanwhile the game of cat and mouse continues with two american service providers dropping wonning ileaks and france banning the site from its servers, too. still in sweden assange's service remains safe in an underground former military bunker.

    >> as long as there are no legal claims from the proper swedish authorities they will stay on.

    >> the 39-year-old australian computer hacker is wanted in sweden for accusations of rape and sexual molestation made by two women in august, detailed in this 68-page court document obtained by nbc news. assange adamantly denies the allegations and his attorney insists the investigation is dirty tricks . the swedish prosecutor disagrees.

    >> this is like every other case. we have been following the normal procedure.

    >> but assange remains defiant. during an online chat with readers of a british newspaper friday he wrote, the cablegate archive has been spread to 100,000 people in encrypted form. if something happens to us the key parts will be released automatically.

    >> also, in that online q & a assange said no matter what happens to him, lester, quote, history will win. the world will be elevated to a better place.

    >> thanks.

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