Afghanistan: Less corrupt than Somalia!
That’s not exactly the kind of slogan the Afghan Ministry of Tourism wants, but unfortunately, that’s the best they can do. According to Transparency International, Afghanistan is the second-most corrupt country on the planet. Only Somalia is worse. Haiti is a whopping eight spots higher on the list. And that has a direct impact on the counter-insurgency fight here in Afghanistan.
The Afghan National Security Forces performed well during this week’s attacks in Kabul, but as Alissa J. Rubin of the NY Times found, Afghans like Noor ul-Haq Uloumi, a member of Parliament who sits on its Defense Committee, can’t help but wonder, “How come these terrorists are able to come all the way from the border to Kabul with all their ammunitions and stuff?” The obvious answer: Corruption. “There are many reports of cases where guards have been bribed to enable criminals or insurgents to move through an area…if we cannot eliminate corruption in the government and cannot make a government based on the rule of law to serve the people of Afghanistan, this corruption can bring many of such attacks.”
The UN Office of Drugs and Crime recently released the results of a survey on Corruption in Afghanistan, and it’s sobering.
Poverty and violence are usually portrayed as the biggest challenges confronting Afghanistan. But ask the Afghans themselves, and you get a different answer: corruption is their biggest worry. An overwhelming 59 per cent of Afghans view public dishonesty as a bigger concern than insecurity (54 per cent) and unemployment (52 per cent).
Obviously, as part of the Coalition supporting the surge in Afghan National Security Forces, my focus has been almost entirely on security. But it’s clear I need to take a broader view. Part of that is simply keeping a more watchful eye on the senior Afghan communicators with whom I interact. They have ample opportunities for corruption – selling permission to use radio frequencies, forcing contractors to pay bribes (commonly called “pen fees” if a signature is needed to complete a bureaucratic process or “walking fees” if it requires simple facilitation), and smoothing the transfer of communications equipment through Customs. I haven’t seen much, if any, of this. But I haven’t been looking closely. Another part is providing support to efforts like the Ministry of the Interior’s Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) and Anti-corruption Hot Line call center. The biggest challenge, as a communicator, is that these efforts require a level of computer security not often seen in Afghanistan. There are not many electronic records in Afghanistan worth killing for. The electronic records of the MCTF and the telephone records of the call center may well be exceptions…
Bottom line: Perhaps the Editorial Staff of StrategyPage say it best:
Behind the war is the real battle for Afghanistan, and the future of the country…poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and corruption. That’s the real war.
* DPA/Corbis photo by Marcel Mettelsiefen, from Time
**USAF photo by TSgt Francisco V. Govea II, from Defense Imagery )