President Obama's war
in Afghanistan has many pressing fronts--the Taliban insurgency
, Al Qaeda terrorists
, a divided Pakistan
--but leading experts now say the highest priority should be fighting
corruption in Afghan civil society. From President Hamid Karzai's
government in Kabul to the police
to the military, they argue that no progress can come
until Afghans have a reliable government. How can Obama lead us against
an enemy who is also our ally?
- Corruption at 'Every Level' Undermines Legitimacy Steve Coll argues that addressing corruption must come first. "In
the long run, counterinsurgency cannot work if the government has no
credibility [...] And ultimately, the question of legitimacy is not how
we see the
Afghan government; it is how the Afghan security services, the Afghan
army, see their own masters and how the populations see that
combination," Coll, a New Yorker writer and head of the New America
Foundation, tells PBS's Frontline.
You have corruption at basically every level of the political
economy. You have it at the petty local level where a policeman will
not carry out his duties without being paid by whoever it is he's
confronting. You have local ministries where the bureaucrats, starved
for salaries, exact fees from citizens to perform services that they
should perform for free. You have regional corruption where governors,
at least poor governors, take resources intended for the benefit of the
population and direct them to their cronies or to their own bank
accounts. And you have a much broader national level of corruption where the
entire political economy of Afghanistan relies on contributions, cash
contributions essentially, from outside. [...] The Afghan government would not function but for money coming from
outside the country, from the United States, from the international
community. That money flows into Kabul and is too often distributed to
those who have access to Kabul rather than to the population it's
intended to benefit.
- Propping Up Karzai Harms Our Mission The New York Times's Thomas Friedman calls
for the U.S. to shift focus from counterinsurgency to battling
corruption. "Because when you are mounting a counterinsurgency
campaign, the local
government is the critical bridge between your troops and your goals.
If that government is rotten, your whole enterprise is doomed," he
writes. "I am not sure Washington fully understands just how much the
Taliban-led insurgency is increasingly an insurrection against the
behavior of the Karzai government — not against the religion or
civilization of its international partners. And too many Afghan people
now blame us for installing and maintaining this government." Friedman
concludes, "I would not add a single soldier there before this guy, if
he does win
the presidency, takes visible steps to clean up his government in ways
that would be respected by the Afghan people."
- Corruption Symptomatic of Unpopularity
Kevin Drum suggests the bigger issue is Karzai's legitimacy among
Afghans. "I don't think anyone is arguing that corrupt states can't be
effective," he writes. "In the modern era, as far as I know, the track
record of success for
counterinsurgencies led by foreign powers fighting alongside unpopular
local governments is approximately zero. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's
exactly zero. So the question isn't whether Karzai is corrupt — of
course he is — the question is how wide his support is. That's
actually a bit of a tricky question, especially in the fractious tribal
politics of Afghanistan, but it's the question to ask. Corruption is
just a symptom, not the core problem."
- But Iraq Is More Corrupt Matthew Yglesias dissents,
citing Transparency International data that rates countries on
corruption. Afghanistan rated fifth worst in the world, out of 180
states. "Afghanistan, as you can see, is pretty corrupt. That said,
really far out of line with local norms. Sundry other central Asian
states join it at the bottom of the barrel. And while it's true that
some of the most corrupt countries are anarchic failed states, the
examples of Myanmar and Turkmenistan clearly indicate that establishing
effective control over your territory doesn’t at all require you to
develop good governance or be respected by the people."
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