Afghanistan: Corruption Is Your Friend


November 23, 2009: The Taliban tactic of attacking the enemy leadership, regardless of civilian casualties, continues to backfire. The Taliban are not easily intimidated, but Afghans traditionally calculate who is likely to win a battle, and quickly leave if it appears that defeat is likely. The current calculation is that the Taliban can't win, and most of the violence is simoly paid for by the drug gangs to keep the cops and foreign troops away.

U.S. and NATO commanders have given up on the Afghan national government, which is more interested in stealing than healing. So, the new strategy is to deal with the tribes, and exploit the very real disputes between the tribes. The biggest beef is the pro-Taliban tribes attempt to take control of the country again. Not only do most Afghans not want this to happen (again), but they are also angry at the bloodthirsty tactics the Taliban are using. A third beef is the alliance of the drug gangs and the Taliban. While the drug business makes a few Afghans rich, the gang related violence and growing number of addicts makes a lot more Afghans miserable and angry. So foreign commanders are going to increase backing for  tribal militias that are most enthusiastic about driving the Taliban away. Meanwhile, the Afghan government earns its way by doing what it has always done; acted as a benefactor and mediator for the hundreds of personal and tribal factions that comprise the country. This is a very labor intensive job, and one in which a little corruption (not unlike that found in Western countries) can go a long way.

Corruption has been a constant in Afghanistan for centuries. Like most of the world, business and government are all about personal relationships, not laws and regulations. This has caused a growing rift with the foreign governments providing the billions of dollars a year in aid. Despite extensive anti-corruption measures, government officials still tend to steal much of whatever they get their hands on. In response, most of the foreign aid is actually spent by foreigners, Afghan officials and tribal leaders complain, but still have ample opportunity to steal. The foreigners have developed more techniques and procedures to make it difficult to steal. This has meant foreigners taking more control of economic and government projects, leaving Afghan officials feeling like they are being treated like children. However, this approach has its limits, as there are not enough foreigners to supervise every operation being financed by foreign money. Stealing the foreigners money just becomes more of a challenge, and Afghans love a challenge.

In response to all this, the Afghan government has agreed to form yet another anti-corruption organization. Past efforts have been more theater (for the foreigners) than anything else. The only Afghans who go to jail are those that have made local enemies. For as long anyone can remember, the point of a national government in Afghanistan is to get money out of foreigners (usually as payment for promises to behave, or fight someone else). But this time around, the foreigners are spending most of the money locally, through programs like the PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams.) This tends to create more anger, since more people get to see the stealing. In the past, the foreign money would disappear before it left Kabul. But seeing it get stolen by local leaders has been a source of grassroots anger.

A recent international corruption survey placed Somalia and Afghanistan at  the bottom of the list. This should come as no surprise, because more corruption tends to mean more disorder. In places like Somalia and Afghanistan, this has always meant that the locals could not get along sufficiently to form an effective national government. Overcoming this problem is something many Afghans aspire to. But the basic problem remains, the general attitude is everyone is out for themselves, and pretty ruthless about it. Changing this mentality, which is deeply embedded in the culture and economy, is difficult. Historically, going from very-corrupt to fairly-clean, has taken decades, at the very least. Expecting the Afghans to make the trip quickly is expecting an extremely rare event to take place. But now the foreigners are saying they will cut off the cash for projects where there is no progress, and it appears the money is being stolen by those in charge.

President Karzai was sworn in for a second five-year term. He promised to have Afghans, rather than foreigners, running all aspects of the government, military and economy, within five years. This will be difficult, because Afghanistan cannot afford the current government (including the national police and military. If foreigners do not supply the billions of dollars needed to maintain the large army and police force, not to mention other government services, the national government will shrink back to cipher it has always been. For most of the last few centuries (as long as there has been an Afghan national government), a major portion of the national budget was provided by foreigners (in the form of bribes and such). Afghans can understand this kind of relationship with foreigners. But the foreigners now want more for their money. This has been a major source of friction. Not just between Afghans and their foreign benefactors, but also between Afghan factions (usually based on tribe).

November 22, 2009:  NATO has taken control of the foreign training program for the Afghan military and police. Thus the U.S. training effort is now coordinated with that of other NATO nations, under a single NATO training command.




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