Who.s Really Responsible For Afghan Corruption? You
The meltdown of the politically-connected Kabul Bank shows that the rampant corruption of the Afghanistan government is jeopardizing the nine-year U.S. war, alienating the people, and making the Taliban look like good-government reformers. And according to one of Washington.s most prestigious defense wonks, it.s all your fault.
You pay your taxes, right? Well, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues in a new paper (.pdf) that the explosion of U.S. cash . $450 billion in ten years, thrown into a country with a $29 billion annual GDP . put Afghanistan on a path to institutional dysfunction. With more foreign money than the capacity to absorb it, corruption in Afghanistan became .the real internal system of national politics,. not a deviation from it. The narco-palaces of Kabul; the millions squirreled away to Dubai to protect warlords. assets; the villagers shaken down by police officers . that.s all on us.
.The flow of money increased in direct proportion to the seriousness of the fighting, the expansion of Taliban control, and a steady decline in Afghan security,. Cordesman writes. .Moreover, the lack of effective and honest governance meant that no one could count on keeping a government job or the security of a business. Afghans had to do what they could to survive and this meant that all saw a steady rise in corruption and the role of powerbrokers at every level. The end result was that corruption became an .existential necessity. for those who could get the money while other Afghans fell into deeper poverty and a steadily less secure life..
Cordesman.s scathing critique points to a decade.s worth of U.S. mistakes. Investing in large-scale reconstruction projects created a booming, kickback-laden contracting business. Eradicating poppy took away people.s livelihoods and left the Taliban control over the opiate market. Low salaries for police officers combined with broad authorities yielded a wave of crooked cops. If you were an Afghan, and this is what you saw around you . in the midst of a war . would you continue to trust your government? An outgoing commander.s recent assessment of eastern Afghanistan finds that the answer in a critical Pashtun border area is no.
For all of that, Cordesman doesn.t think the U.S. ought to cut its losses in Afghanistan. He has praise for an anti-corruption agenda that the U.S. military and State Department designed last year . but have still not enacted (!) . that calls for building up the Afghan judiciary and pulling U.S. aid money out of terminally corrupt ministries. Indeed, Cordesman believes that the U.S. needs to crack down on its own corrupt contractors, including (gasp!) private civilian aid groups that can be .can be incompetent, corrupt, and grossly overpriced.. In the short and medium-term, he writes, the U.S. can do the most in the anti-corruption fight by .putting its own house in order..
But to be on the safe side, American cash should .de facto. circumvent the national government whenever prudent. .The U.S. should target contract and aid funds carefully in both its military and civil programs,. he writes. .It needs to empower the honest and effective, whether they are military or civilians, and disempower the corrupt..
That.s been the mantra under General David Petraeus. He helped establish Task Force 2010, run by a two-star admiral, to ensure that the military.s copious contracting dollars don.t wind up strengthening the political clout of crooked powerbrokers. For the same reason, Petraeus explicitly told his troops that they should .contract with care. when using their discretionary cash to fund small-scale projects.
But left unsaid in Cordesman.s paper: What if the U.S. just can.t find these .honest and effective. Afghans? What if the crush of institutional dysfunction is too much for them? And if it.s ultimately the influx of U.S. cash that creates a persistent distorting effect in Afghanistan, at what point is it time to simply remove the source of the problem?
The Obama administration will next review its Afghanistan strategy in December. Whether it will consider such fundamental questions just months after placing a new commander, Petraeus, at the helm remains to be seen. Early indications aren.t so promising. At a Washington breakfast with reporters yesterday, NATO.s civilian chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told an incredulous Josh Rogin that he still considered President Hamid Karzai to be a partner in the anti-corruption efforts. If Cordesman is right, Karzai would be within his rights to ask how serious Rasmussen, NATO and the U.S. really are about anti-corruption themselves.Stumble It!