Tolerating Afghan Corruption Got Us Where We Are Today

by sayke on 9/16/2010 · 4 comments

Let us not mince words: For the past 8+ years, the international community has, at a minimum, looked the other way while Karzai’s government stole elections (plural), smuggled opium by the ton, systematically looted the people they’re supposed to protect, and literally got away with murder… on our dime. The justifications for this have been many, but let’s just focus on one thing: Has it worked?

If it had worked, we might see something like Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe – where patronage, targeted violence, personal loyalties, and social cleavages are successfully employed to suppress alternative political organization. We might see the government feared as effective repressors and monopolists of violence on the one hand, and effective rewarders of allies, clients, and employees on the other.

In Afghanistan, we see nothing like that.

Andrew Exum says that corruption might “eventually” undermine the host nation government to which we’re supposed to be doing a handover, but we can’t do anything about it because Karzai will just go into a defensive crouch (and we apparently can’t handle his defensive crouch!?)… But the problem is that the government is already thoroughly undermined, to the extent that that at the local level there’s currently no effective government to handover to. Prospects for the emergence of such are receding by the day.

This is what tolerating corruption gets us: The Malign Actor Networks are large and in charge. They are unwilling or unable to shoulder the sovereign burden, are not at war with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda in the slightest, and don’t give a shit about the people of Afghanistan writ large. Like Zardari, they’ve got their villas sorted in Dubai and their kids in international schools, and as long as they don’t miss the last chopper off the roof they’re good to go… And these are the guys we’re supposed to hand over to??

So as the new conventional wisdom emerges that we have no choice but to tolerate corruption, let us remember that we’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work. We cannot rely on drone armies, “the tribes”, or corrupt pseudo-governance to keep Al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan. It’s BS. It won’t work. We know it won’t work because we’ve been trying it for a good 9 years.

What can work (or at least is worth trying) will be the subject of a later post.

PS: Thanks to Joel Hafvenstein for getting me to think about this stuff again. Cheers!

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Sandra September 17, 2010 at 10:26 am

Indeed. We thought we were being pragmatic in tolerating a certain amount of creaming money off the top of contracts, and we thought we were doing Afghans a favour by not insisting on high standards. After all, there’s lots of poverty, right? So who can begrudge an impoverished local official or contractor the chance to put a couple of hundred dollars in his pocket. Well, I don’t begrudge him that, not really. But what about when we are talking about the lucky few in high positions of power and influence, who are pocketing tens of thousands of dollars? These people shouldn’t just be ‘transferred to another job’. They should be prosecuted by an international corruption task force – that’s right, international task force, not an Afghan-led task force, but an international-led task force. Why? Because its our taxpayers money, it’s robbing ordinary Afghans of opportunity, and unfortunately our good Afghan colleagues and friends are often too invested and subject to pressure, to do an independent job. Hence, few prosecutions for corruption to date. Further, we shouldn’t spend what we can’t account for. and international governments and NGOs who transfer cash for projects, however small or large, should be making sure it’s being spent properly, all the way to the implementation of that project and beyond. Yes, it takes effort, and man hours, and persistence and nagging, but it’s the only way to ensure that aid money has had an effect. Anything else, may actually be doing harm, by rewarding people for no effort. What kind of culture is that creating – where you get money for nothing? Prices go up, and the poor honest guys get shafted… Thanks for not mincing words….

Toryalay Shirzay September 17, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Sandra, Thank you for an honest presentation of the dilemma in Afghanistan.An international corruption task force with teeth is badly needed here. Afghans are incapable of conducting effective high level corruption trials because of fear,intimidation,threats,assasination and etc.

coach outlet September 20, 2010 at 4:17 am
Eric September 20, 2010 at 4:48 pm

The problem is even deeper than presented above. We, the American taxpayer, are actually funding the insurgency. The Khost to Gardez Road is a perfect example. The project is mainly funded by USAID and contracted out. Unfortunately, the area is in the heart of Haqqani country and security is required prior to any construction push. The “security” is often thugs themselves, but going even further; the Haqqani Network in the area ran by Mullah Seguin is paid handsomely not to attack certain stretches of construction by the security company, who is paid by the construction company, who is paid by USAID. FINALLY – this is prevelant not just in regard to the KG Pass Road, but throughout Eastern Afghanistan. And I am sure readers can speculate as to what the money is used for by the Haqqani Network…

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