Counter-Terrorism: Corruption Conquers All


April 14, 2009: Government, and many other things we take for granted, is an alien concept in Afghanistan. Rule of law, and efficient police and judicial systems, which are taken for granted in the West, are only an abstraction in places like Afghanistan. Consider that, four years ago, the Afghan government made a big deal about police corruption. The issue attracted attention at the highest levels of government. Investigations were initiated in a number of provinces and some progress was announced. For example, a district police chief in Takhar Province was arrested following an incident in which peaceful demonstrators were dispersed with gunfire, leaving some dead. Nothing really came of that arrest, or the much publicized campaign to deal with corruption.

Rooting out police corruption, as even many advanced democratic nations have discovered, is difficult. In a country such as Afghanistan, where corruption is viewed as more or less the normal way of doing things, it is extremely difficult. Despite the difficulties, the effort to reduce police corruption was seen, four years ago, as critical to breaking the back of Taliban power. So what happened?

Drug money happened. The corruption is now working at high speed, as the heroin trade puts hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy each month. The drug gangs pay well for all sorts of police and government favors. This has caused bribe inflation, and that means the cops are even more demanding when they want to beat a few bucks out of an ordinary Afghan.

How does the Taliban fit into all this? For one thing, they are often paying the bribes. While the Taliban are encumbered by their legacy of misrule during the 1990s, they cannot be blamed for having created a corrupt police force. The Taliban didn't have police. They had teams of clerics and armed "religious students" going around trying to enforce their rules. When that failed, the Taliban called out their al Qaeda brigade, filled with Arabs and other foreigners, to apply some merciless punishment to rebellious tribes. But beyond that, the Taliban let the Afghans handle their problems the traditional ways, with tribal councils and blood feuds. Messy but effective. In the cities, the armed students provided rough policing, along with clerics would could play judge, jury and executioner, all in rapid succession, as needed.

While, in theory, the Western concept of police and judicial system is more effective, in practice, the Afghan tribal and terror system is superior in Afghanistan. That's because corrupt cops and judges give you no justice at all. The Taliban promise to change all that by returning to the traditional ways. Many Afghans have little faith in that, because they know what the Taliban did in the 1990s, and what the Iranian clerics have been doing for three decades. Afghans are caught in the middle, with nowhere to go.



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