Washington Times May 14, 2014
The U.S. government isn’t doing enough to fight corruption in Afghanistan, the top American watchdog for the country said Wednesday, raising the concern that much of the effort and the $103 billion that has been given to rebuild the war-torn nation is being lost to graft.
"Corruption is really the big issue," John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), told a gathering at the Middle East Institute, a D.C. think tank. He added that he had heard from military commanders in the field that "corruption is more serious in Afghanistan than the insurgency."
Not only does it waste money, it prevents helpful projects from being completed, robs the Afghan people of the resources they need and makes them lose faith in their government, Mr. Sopko told his audience.
He pointed to the 2010 downfall of the Kabul Bank, Afghanistan’s largest private financial institution, whose collapse drastically harmed the nation’s economy. The biggest driver in the Kabul bank’s collapse was $935 million skimmed and stolen, the vast majority of it — 92 percent — by just 19 people.
"It shows how the patronage system and the failure to prosecute people guilty of gross fraud and abuse is undermining the Afghan economy and putting future development efforts at risk," Mr. Sopko said. It’s a sentiment that was echoed in April by retired Gen. John Allen, who once led U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
"The great challenge to Afghanistan’s future isn’t the Taliban, or the Pakistani safe havens or even an incipiently hostile Pakistan," Gen. Allen told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee in testimony this spring. "The existential threat to the long-term viability of modern Afghanistan is corruption."
"The ideological insurgency, the criminal patronage networks, and the drug enterprise have formed an unholy alliance, which relies for its success on the criminal capture of your government functions at all levels," he continued, quoting a letter he said he planned to send to the Afghan president.
Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly been criticized — often by people in his own country — as letting graft and corruption run rampant.
The United Nations estimates that the total cost of corruption in Afghanistan has reached $4 billion, and that in 2012, half of all people in the nation had to pay a bribe to a public official to receive some kind of basic service.