Corruption being taken to an even higher level thanks to the US presence is an old story. When I visited Vietnam almost a decade ago, I heard tales of corruption everywhere in the south that were related to the US military presence. One restaurant owner in Hoi An talked about weapons being brought in the front door of an ARVN camp and heading straight out the back door to be sold to the Viet Cong. He knew because that’s what his business was back in the day. It was a free-for-all cash machine that many hated to see leave because it was a profitable business until the US left. There’s never been any question that a country like Afghanistan was ripe for the same kind of corruption.
In a poor country, the corruption that exists will easily increase to even more outrageous amounts when you inject billions upon billions into the market. In our own system, we’re already used to big, gaudy numbers and the corruption is much more legitimized for polite society. See campaign contributions, foot dragging with half assed financial reform, failing to hold Wall Street accountable for trillions of dollars of losses and the latest winner, the Supreme Court giving the keys to your health history to Big Pharma. This is all corruption so we shouldn’t get too much on our high horse about corruption elsewhere.
Back to Afghanistan though, there is little doubt that the injection of US tax dollars has compounded an already serious problem. The cash grab can only get worse now that the US has indicated it will be leaving eventually. That said, there really are no good options other than getting out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later.
These are some of the elements, large and small, that together form the elaborate organized crime environment Afghans contend with daily. And despite the hoped-for success of the U.S. military surge and President Barack Obama’s claims of significant progress, Afghanistan’s resemblance to a mafia state that cannot serve its citizens may only be getting worse, according to an upcoming report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.
The 46-page study, to be released next week, looks specifically at Afghanistan’s heartland: the rural areas of Ghazni, Wardak, Logar and other provinces just beyond the periphery of Kabul. Unemployment is high, government presence is low and the insurgency operates with impunity. Corruption and cooperation with the Taliban reach the highest levels of local governance.
“Nearly a decade after the U.S.-led military intervention little has been done to challenge the perverse incentives of continued conflict in Afghanistan,” the research group says. Rather, violence and the billions of dollars in international aid have brought wealthy officials and insurgents together. And “the economy as a result is increasingly dominated by a criminal oligarchy of politically connected businessmen,” the report concludes.