A three-pronged approach to confront Afghanistan’s corruption
Corruption is not inevitable. Afghanistan should focus on technical, legal, and cultural areas to ease the tyranny of corruption.
Washington; and Santa Monica, Calif.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
After a period of harsh and direct US criticism this past fall, the air is cleared, but issues remain. Corruption in particular – hardly touched upon during the visit – threatens to imperil success in Afghanistan even if the military and security challenges are mastered.
Transparency International ranks Afghanistan as the second most corrupt country in the world, after Somalia. A study from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime reports that corruption is the second-largest contributor to the country’s gross domestic product. Clearly, corruption is Afghanistan’s Achilles’ heel.
A few weeks ago, RAND hosted a gathering of the Afghan government’s director general for the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption, civil society activists, investigative journalists, parliamentarians, educators, and bloggers in Kabul to discuss Afghanistan’s future.
While the participants generated a depressing list of the myriad ways corruption permeates daily life, we also found many bright spots – groups and individuals resisting the insidious spread of corruption – and together developed ideas on how to fight corruption more effectively.
As dramatic and disturbing as the statistics are, they can make it seem like corruption is just a regrettable and inevitable fact of life. What they don’t convey is just how difficult it makes the daily reality for the Afghan people. Citizens have to bribe a cascade of officials before they can pay their electricity bill or even taxes. Schoolchildren often need to bribe their teachers to obtain a report card. One man related how a cleric had demanded a bribe to convert his Christian fiancée to Islam.
Corruption has gone beyond what is normal or tolerable in Afghanistan. In previous generations, officials were known to be corrupt, but they were ostracized for it. Now it is seen as an acceptable and normal way to get ahead.
Even some economists argue that corruption can be a lubricant, greasing the wheels where salaries are low and idealism is tepid. Maybe. But in Afghanistan, corruption impedes sustainable economic development, depletes donor resources, and plays to the one perceived strength of the Taliban – their moral righteousness.