Eleven months ago, the Atlantic Wire surveyed the increasingly vocal warnings that corruption was our biggest challenge in Afghanistan. Now, many experts and observers in the U.S. are seeing little reason to think the problem has improved or is likely to get any easier. Corruption among Afghanistan's political figures and its local elites, including the problematic administration of President Hamid Karzai, remains a significant hurdle to progress in the war we launched nine years ago this week to abolish the Taliban state and deny al-Qaeda a safe haven. Here's what people are saying.
Our Corruption Catch-22 The New York Times' Mark Mazzetti says it's all coming to a head in the high-profile assault in Kandahar. "Carrying out the plan in Kandahar, where President Karzai's half-brother is a powerful official, involves an unholy bargain: working with some of the same power brokers in the south whose predatory corruption, American officials say, has turned Afghans away from the Karzai government and toward the Taliban. If counterinsurgency doctrine dictates that wars are won and lost by building credible government, is any level of corruption tolerable?" But how do we provide the necessary security for building good governance when the current government is so corrupt?
- U.S. Backing Off Anti-Corruption Efforts The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports, "Senior Obama administration officials have concluded they need to step back from promoting American-style law enforcement as the main means of fighting corruption in Afghanistan because of the rift it has caused with President Hamid Karzai. ... there is a growing consensus that key corruption cases against people in Karzai's government should be resolved with face-saving compromises behind closed doors instead of public prosecutions." An administration official told him, "The current approach is not tenable. ... What will we get out of it? We'll arrest a few mid-level Afghans, but we'll lose our ability to operate there and achieve our principal goals."
- Want to Leave This Century? Don't Focus on Corruption The Center for New American Security's Andrew Exum writes, "On the one hand, you have serious people like Sarah Chayes who argue that corruption is the problem in Afghanistan. Afghanistan does not have a weak government, this argument goes. To the contrary, it has a quite effective government: it is 'effective' at essentially lining the pockets of the ruling class at the expense of the people themselves. ... [But] I starting wondering whether or not the United States had the time or commitment necessary in Afghanistan to really tackle the issue properly. If Afghanistan was going to be our 51st state, then it makes sense to send Patrick Fitzgerald or whoever over to Kabul and let him do his thing. But the reality is that we are trying to leave Afghanistan. ... Let's just train up the Afghan National Security Forces and transition to a security force assistance-type mission as soon as is humanly possible."
- U.S. Funds Worst Abusers, Worsening Corruption The Guardian's Pratap Chatterjee points out that the U.S., particularly the CIA, work with and sometimes fund many of the country's most corrupt leaders, such as Ahmed Wali Karzai. "There is absolutely no doubt in the mind of anyone in Kabul that corruption is endemic among Afghanistan's ruling elite. But who granted the contracts, put them on the payroll and gave them the money? So, when are we going to see those CIA and Pentagon officials in Washington DC facing charges?"
- Debate Reveals Our Contradictory Goals Liberal national security blogger Marcy Wheeler writes, "Underlying the entire debate is the fact that our goals in Afghanistan ... are totally unclear and apparently divorced from national interest. The debate pits those who believe corruption discredits the Karzai regime and creates support for the Taliban against those who rely on corrupt members of the Karzai regime who claim cracking down on corruption (which is, effectively, the removal of our aid money to private bank accounts in Dubai) will hurt the goal, which they've redefined, without Congressional buy-off, as defeating the Taliban."