Despite the claims of success in Afghanistan, there are many flaws that need our immediate attention if the international community’s exercise in Afghanistan can even remotely be considered successful.
It is true that many achievements have been made on paper, but how practical and lasting they may be is another issue. Some of the basic questions have not been addressed to whether post 2014 the international community will leave behind a lasting and viable government. Only time can tell if Afghanistan will become a responsible or a failed state.
Amongst the many critical flaws, the Afghan government and the international community must come to terms with how to contain and minimize corruption, which after 2014 can lead to wide dissatisfaction with government and possible upheavals.
Afghanistan’s rampant corruption, which siphons billions of dollars out of Afghanistan hasn’t been seriously addressed. The lack of concern and practical measures to curtail corruption is so dismal that according to the recently release 2012 Transparency International Perceptions Index (CPI), a respected global anti-corruption organization, Afghanistan shares the prize of being ranked in the absolute bottom along with Somalia and North Korea. What is surprising is not the fact that Afghanistan is rock bottom, but this is the first time that Afghanistan has been in the absolute bottom, though in 2011 it was ranked number three from the bottom.
It is important to note that CPI measures the perception of abuse of power for personal gains. In that case, those in position of power in Afghanistan are abusing their position for personal gain that is unparalleled save for North Korea and Somalia. And since Afghanistan’s standing has declined, it is also inversely true that corruption has increased. With this shameful record, the consequence is that the people of Afghanistan will lose whatever trust they have left in their government, since any foreign donation and domestic revenue intended for development will be perceived to be misused.
As the trust in the institutions of government declines, so will people’s attraction towards the armed opposition. The main driving factors will be lack of resources that would have otherwise been used to improve roads and other infrastructure, education, power generation, health care, and so forth. And the fact that people are forced to provide bribes whenever they contact civil servants would further strain the people’s relations with the government. A UNDOC report in 2010 reported that “Afghans paid out $2.5 billion in bribes in the last 12 months—that’s equivalent to almost one quarter (23 %) of Afghanistan’s GDP” for that year. This double whammy of illicitly extracting money from the common person and embezzling both domestic revenue and foreign aid will certainly add fuel to peoples’ anger and frustration.
At the heart of this corruption is the people’s comparison of what has been achieved since the downfall of the Taliban. To the average person, the international community appears to have replaced an extremist regime with one that is minimally responsive to their needs, as the necessary funds are siphoned and misused. With this legacy of mistrust between the government and the people, the legitimacy of those in positions of power will come to question.
Do we still have a chance to reverse this unfortunate legacy of the last 12 years? I believe it is still possible if the international community and Afghanistan’s government begin a serious and practical approach. We need to move beyond simply concentrating on transparency and integrity and focus clearly on targeting corruption.
As a first measure, the Afghan government and the international community must start cleaning house from top to the bottom. Corruption at the top not only distorts priorities, but it also provides those in position of power a sense of immunity from interrogation. This ill perceived safety and complacency in the part of Afghanistan’s power brokers must come to an end.
Afghanistan’s capital flight must become transparent and to that end both domestic and international monetary institutions must become partners with the international community to monitor financial interactions of top and mid-level government officials.
Unfortunately, the theft of government revenue and international aid will accelerate prior to 2014 as those in position of power begin to grab all they can as the international community’s departure approaches. I am afraid this free fall theft will exponentially rise after 2014. Unless this tide of rampant corruption is turned prior to 2014, Afghans well continue to suffer, and in the process we will forever remain dependent on the international community. Above all we will even provide the Taliban a second chance to come back knocking at the doors of Kabul.