Archive for the 'Corruption in COIN' Category



The Incorrigible Corruption In Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 8 months ago

From NYT:

For the past few months, possibly the most intriguing poker game in Kabul has been taking place in the sprawling pink sitting room of the man at the center of one of the most public corruption scandals in the world, the near collapse of Kabul Bank.

The players include people tied to President Hamid Karzai’s inner circle, many of whom have profited from the crony capitalism that has come to define Afghanistan’s economic order, and nearly brought down Kabul Bank. The game’s stakes “aren’t too big — a few thousand dollars up or down,” one of the participants said.

Betting thousands of dollars a night in a country where most families live off a few hundred dollars a year would seem like a bad play for Sherkhan Farnood, the founder and former chairman of Kabul Bank, the country’s biggest. His assets are supposed to be frozen, and he is still facing the threat of prosecution over a scandal that could end up costing the Afghan government — and, by extension, the Western countries that pay most of its expenses — almost $900 million, a sum that nearly equals the government’s total annual revenues.

But Mr. Farnood, who in 2008 won about $143,000 at a World Series of Poker event in Europe, appears to know a good wager when he sees one. Despite years of urging and oversight by American advisers, Mr. Karzai’s government has yet to prosecute a high-level corruption case. And now many American officials say that they have little expectation that Mr. Farnood’s case will prove to be the exception — or that Washington will try to do much about it, especially after violent anti-American protests in recent weeks have sowed fresh doubts in the Obama administration over the viability of the mission in Afghanistan.

As Americans pull back from Afghanistan, Mr. Farnood’s case exemplifies how the United States is leaving behind a problem it underwrote over the past decade with tens of billions of dollars of aid and logistical support: a narrow business and political elite defined by its corruption, and despised by most Afghans for it.

And thus is Afghanistan perfectly set up for the return of the Taliban when we leave.  The Taliban will deal with corruption from the barrel of an AK-47.  They will do it quickly, effectively and without mercy.

Our strategy of marginalizing the Taliban, imprisoning their mid-level commanders, and creating a legitimate central government that would take the place of Taliban governance doesn’t seem too smart now, huh?  It would have been better to have killed the Taliban all along.

Oh, and all of those mid-level Taliban commanders will soon be released from their prisons only to take charge of their fighters once again as the U.S. leaves and the Karzai government tries (unsuccessfully) to keep from perishing by kowtowing to the demands of the Taliban (thereby hastening the return of the very elements that will end the Karzai government).

You couldn’t have scripted a darker tragedy with pen, paper and any amount of time.

Can the Afganis Do Logistics?

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 5 months ago

From Reuters:

Stocking warehouses in most police forces is low-rank, unglamorous work. In Afghanistan, where literacy and education are at a premium, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Hurley is pushing to make it a well-paid and prestigious job.

The U.S. and its allies are rushing to ready the Afghan army and police to take over control of security from July, but they are discovering they have a job far more complex than just providing guns and training about how to use them.

Years of funding shortages, civil war, corruption and weak leadership have eaten away at the backbone of logistics, medical and training systems that support front-line troops.

So U.S. Air Force officer Hurley is just one of hundreds of foreign soldiers who have found themselves in Afghanistan fighting a war with training manuals, Excel spreadsheets and theories about supply lines.

Hurley runs training and management at the Afghan police force’s largest regional logistics hub, where just six Afghan officers coordinate supplies for 20,000 police in the south.

“One of the greatest challenges we face is the lack of literate, capable Afghan logisticians,” Hurley told Reuters in a gleaming warehouse stacked with everything from waterproof coats to pistols kept in a padlocked wire cage.

At present the pay and rank of the jobs are low. In a country where two-thirds of the population is illiterate, that makes it virtually impossible to attract police with the management and record-keeping skills needed, or give them a salary that ensures they resist temptations toward corruption.

“Logistics isn’t terribly glamorous, but what they control are the resources and the weapons so there is incredible pressure on them and a huge revenue stream,” Hurley said, adding that it is also a dangerous career choice.

“If they are doing things honorably they are at huge risk from the Taliban,” he said, gesturing to the stacks of guns.

Read the whole article.  I’ll predict that no amount of laptops, EXCEL spreadsheets, training or oversight will develop a logistics force or the capability to transport goods and services from place to place in Afghanistan.  But what’s more important, nothing we can do will rid the force of its systemic corruption.  As I recently observed, “in the end, evil is a moral problem, not an epistemological one, and you cannot educate or rehabilitate evil out of mankind.”

Corruption is neither a financial nor a pedagogical problem.  No literacy program will modify behavior.  Endemic corruption is an Afghani problem, and they Afghans will have to solve it, or they will fail at everything they do.  In this case the failure would be in logistics.  I have observed before that no army can long survive without logistics.  Logistics rules.

Security in Mazar-i-Sharif?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 6 months ago

A report on Mazar-i-Sharif from The New York Times.

In a country still gripped by war, the families picnicking around the azure-domed shrine in the central square here are perhaps the clearest sign that this northern provincial city has distinguished itself as one of the most secure places in the country. An estimated one million people visited Mazar-i-Sharif for Afghan New Year celebrations in March and in the weeks after without incident.

It helps, of course, that Mazar-i-Sharif and the surrounding Balkh Province lie far from the Pakistani border and the heartland of the Taliban insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan. But there is something else that sets Mazar-i-Sharif apart, almost everyone here agrees, and that is the leadership of the provincial governor, Atta Muhammad Noor.

Some regard Mr. Noor, 46, a former mujahedeen commander and an ethnic Tajik, as a thinly disguised warlord who still exercises an unhealthy degree of control across much of the north and who has used that influence to grow rich through business deals during his time in power since 2001.

But there is little doubt that Mr. Noor has also managed to do in his corner what President Hamid Karzai has failed to achieve in other parts of Afghanistan: bring development and security, with a good measure of public support, to regions divided by ethnic and political rivalries.

For that, Mr. Noor has slowly gained the attention and support of Western donors and become something of a study in what kind of governing, imperfect as it is, produces results in Afghanistan.

Since 2001, American and other Western officials have tried to buttress the central government under Mr. Karzai as a means of securing Afghanistan by weakening powerful regional warlords and bringing lucrative customs revenues into the state coffers. Mr. Karzai has installed political allies as governors around the country, yet many have failed to provide security or services and have indulged in corruption, alienating Afghans from the government at all levels.

Supporters of Mr. Noor say he has made the transition from bearded guerrilla fighter to business-suited manager. Though many presume he has used his position of power to make money, Mr. Noor speaks out against corruption and has apparently checked it enough to maintain public support. That support has enhanced security, and the security has allowed others to prosper, too, another important reason that he has maintained popular backing.

Such is his support that Mr. Noor is the one governor whom President Karzai has been unable to replace, or has chosen not to, even after Mr. Noor campaigned against him in the presidential election last year.

A skillful politician, Mr. Noor has also gained the upper hand over some formidable political rivals, solidifying his power in the region as they left to take up posts in Kabul, including even Mr. Karzai’s ally, the Uzbek militia leader Abdul Rashid Dostum.

In an interview in his lavish party offices, Mr. Noor denied rumors that he takes a cut of every investment that flows through the region and said he made his money legally — he has interests in oil, wood trading, fertilizer and construction, among other things. “In legal ways, I did do a lot of work,” he said. “I did my own business.”

Instead, he criticized Mr. Karzai’s management of the country and said the president never followed through on plans to regulate revenue collection, policing and relations between the central government and the provinces. He derided Mr. Karzai’s efforts to curb corruption, saying the president should not appoint corrupt people in the first place.

Mr. Karzai had also failed to act as the Taliban insurgency spread into the north in recent years, he said.

“If we don’t have the cooperation of the people, you cannot stop it,” he said of the insurgency. “There has to be a deep contact between the people and the government. If officials are not embezzling or taking bribes, then definitely the people will trust the government.”

It isn’t clear whether Noor’s scolding of Karzai is an instance of the pot calling the kettle black.  This is also very far to the North – in Northern Alliance territory (and the Taliban aren’t likely to be able to take the area, especially with Abdul Rashid Dostum still there).  But there is one thing that is becoming more apparent with the passage of time.  Our alignment with Karzai is more than just an alignment with corruption.  It’s an alignment with incompetent corruption.

Karzai is showing himself more and more as a man who cannot govern, a man who cannot accomplish even the basic things necessary to make a state function, and a man who cannot be taken seriously.  Without U.S. forces present, his government would likely become chaotic and fall within months.  Afghanistan (or parts of it) can be governed, but Hamid Karzai cannot do it.

Afghanistan, Corruption and Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

Edward Joseph writing for the Washington Post gives us a glimpse into how some of the former anti-Soviet Mujahideen feel about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

I recently visited the exhibit during a seven-week mission to evaluate a U.S. program assisting local governments in Afghanistan. On our way out of the museum, we bumped into a prominent mujahed fighter and his entourage. When an American in our group told him that the United States would never forget the Afghan fighters’ struggle against the Soviets, he smiled and nodded proudly. “And we also can never forget your fight against the Taliban now,” the American added. With that, the mujahed’s smile vanished — and so did he, with all his people, after an awkward goodbye.

A full sixty percent of the Afghan population see the Taliban as the biggest threat to Afghanistan.  This Mujahideen can be counted as one of the irreconcilables, and Petraeus has noted that we must pursue and kill them.  But the author goes on to discuss what turns out to be an important underlying problem in Afghanistan: corruption.

Everywhere I went, people complained about corruption. “The government is corrupt from A to Z,” said a road contractor working in one of the most dangerous provinces. The pressure, he explained, begins with “suggestions” that he hire officials’ relatives and friends and rent vehicles only from certain providers; it ends with the officials telling him exactly how big a cut of his profits they’ll take to let the project continue.

This theme is so ubiquitous that it isn’t difficult to find reports of corruption.  It applies to everything in life.

When it comes to governing this violent, fractious land, everything, it seems, has its price.

Want to be a provincial police chief? It will cost you $100,000.

Want to drive a convoy of trucks loaded with fuel across the country? Be prepared to pay $6,000 per truck, so the police will not tip off the Taliban.

Need to settle a lawsuit over the ownership of your house? About $25,000, depending on the judge.

“It is very shameful, but probably I will pay the bribe,” Mohammed Naim, a young English teacher, said as he stood in front of the Secondary Courthouse in Kabul. His brother had been arrested a week before, and the police were demanding $4,000 for his release. “Everything is possible in this country now. Everything.”

Kept afloat by billions of dollars in American and other foreign aid, the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. From the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.

Ubiquitous corruption is now causing a major problem in the counterinsurgency campaign.  Some of the population is beginning to contrast the massive, systemic corruption of the current regime with Taliban rule.

Some in Kabul have become nostalgic for Taliban times. “At least, with the Taliban, we had security,” one mechanic told me after we haggled over the cost of my motorcycle repair. “No one would steal my tools. Now life is dangerous, the cost of food and gas are expensive, and the government does nothing for us. They work only for themselves, because they know this won’t last” …

[Some] seem nostalgic about the Taliban government’s honesty and integrity, despite the harsh rules. One recent cartoon in The Kabul Times showed a $100 bill on a human body, pointing to an Afghan government ministry and saying, “If you need help, don’t go in there without me!”

According to one report, NGOs now dedicate an average of 7 to 8 percent of their budget to paying bribes—sometimes called “facilitation fees” or “marketing fees” on paper—many directly to government official coffers. USAID and military organizations seem able to avoid much of the corruption, but ordinary Afghans face it regularly. There are at least four phrases in Dari specifically for persons who demand bribes, my favorite being chor sat o bist, “420,” the code for corruption.

It’s not that the system is corrupt,” the U.S. State Department’s new anti-corruption director told me in September, inside a heavily guarded compound in Wazir Akbar Khan. “It’s that corruption is the system.”

Corruption undermines legitimacy of the government, especially for the poor and lower middle class.  This has been and is being exploited by the Taliban, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan.  The PakTribune has a remarkable anecdotal account of this kind of exploitation.  It is a lengthy account, but necessary if we wish fully to understand one of the tools that the Taliban have used to come back to power.

It was during a visit to Peshawar that I met a senior police officer. He narrated a story which was brow-raising. He told of a person from Bannu who lent Rs 40,000/ to a man he knew, who promised that he would return it within a specified time. He told the borrower that he had saved up the said amount to help pay for his children`s education. When the agreed time lapsed, he asked him to return the amount. The borrower started making excuses and after a few months he flatly refused and challenged the lender to do what ever he could. There is a Pukhtun word for it “Laas Da Azaad De”.

The man went from pillar to post to seek justice but with no result. The police proved incapable as the borrower was a powerful man with strong connections. When he tried to knock on the door of the court for justice he was dismayed to hear that it would take months for the case to come to a hearing and years to reach a final judgment. After all that, the chances were that the verdict would go against him as he was up against powerful people. To top it off, he was told he had to pay Rs. 1000/ upfront every time he wanted to put his case forward for a hearing. This amount did not include the amount he was going to pay the lawyers. When he calculated it, the approximate amount turned out to be more than the actual amount he was going to seek justice for.

At the end of every day, he would go back home heart broken; cursing his luck to be living in a country where there was no justice for the middle or poor classes. He tried to persuade the borrower by pleading with him, explaining how desperately he needed the money for his children’s education. He even offered a discount or to split the amount into installments, but all in vain. It was like hitting a brick wall. He felt dejected, helpless and powerless to see his children suffering just because he came from strata of a society pushed against the wall.

One evening, he heard a knock on the door. He opened it and saw two strangers with bushy beards standing outside. Thinking they were there to collect ‘Chanda’, he asked with irritation what they wanted. They told him that they saw him crying in the mosque and on enquiry they were told that someone was refusing to pay his money back. With a surprised look on his face, he asked them who they were.

“We are local Taliban” Then they asked if he would let them have his side of story. He saw a ray of hope and ushered them in. After listening to his story, the Taliban told him that the borrower had committed an un-Islamic act, and if he wanted they could persuade him to return the said money. “We want your permission”. His heart jumped with flickering optimism and immense joy and without any hesitation, he gave them his consent. Before they left the premises they asked for 72 hours.

According to the police officer, the Taliban went to the influential man and told him it was un-Islamic not to pay the amount he had borrowed from the man. They threatened that if he did not pay the debt back within 48 hours; he would bear the consequences. They also told him how Taliban had previously dealt with people like him. Shivers went through the spine of the ‘powerful’ man as he knew what their threat meant. With a dry mouth, frightened face and shaking body he nodded his head in agreement, promising he would pay back the amount. The next day, he went to the house of the lender and paid back the full amount he had refused up until then. He apologised for the delay and requested him to tell the Taliban not to harm him or his family and to let them know that he had returned the money. The Taliban never went back to ask whether he got the money back, but they must had been watching the development. From that day on, according to the police officer, that man became a strong supporter of Taliban. Could anyone blame him?

When Taliban justice is seen as free of corruption, the people can overlook its harshness – at least, some of them.  As long as corruption is the way of life in Afghanistan and the Taliban are seen as the anti-corruption faction, the campaign will be very hard to prosecute, and in fact no lasting good is likely to come of it.

The application of soft power is necessary in Afghanistan, and this power doesn’t necessarily mean more largesse.  But it does mean that we must be clever and crafty regarding the politics, governance, mentoring and instruction of the Afghan government, and the accountability we demand of the current (and future) regime.  We must not be as politically stolid as we were in Iraq.  We might just win the military campaign and lose the country because we back a corrupt regime.


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