A Tale of Karzai’s Anticorruption Efforts

My op-ed for Outlook Afghanistan, Oct 23

It’s an irony to see high-ranking anti-corruption officials making tours around the world to attend seminars on ‘how to fight corruption’, but having no single case of success, in large-scale corruption that has plagued the Karzai Administration top to bottom. To their credit, we always top the list of shame in ranking among world’s nations. Afghanistan is the second most corrupt country. It has been at top of the list for the last decade.

President Karzai is going to complete his two years of second term next month. While taking oath in November of 2009, he promised to make the fight against corruption his top priority. He made this promise live on TV, and in presence of VIPs from more than 45 countries including the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At a time when talk of corruption in Karzai Administration was a common story, western donor countries and Afghans took the promises with hope.

After coming to Palace for second term, President Karzai ordered establishment of a new anti-corruption task force. It was such hyped that the US and British ambassadors were present in the press conference when former Interior Minister Hanif Atmar announced the new unit. Hillary Clinton had said future US civilian aid to Afghanistan was conditioned to reform in governance and anti-corruption efforts of President Karzai. The so-called anti-corruption unit was announced to work with support from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, Britain’s Scotland Yard and EUPOL.

However, nor President Karzai has kept with his promises of ‘war on corruption’; neither the international community has bothered to put pressure on him. Though the Obama Administration in the beginning was serious on this, in the days when Vice President Joe Biden had once walked out of a lunch with President Karzai on an argument about corruption, but they too have other priorities now, and it seems issues such as corruption and opium production is of no significance to the US anymore.

The US congress has also ignored it. Though in July 2010, they blocked a $4 billion aid to Afghanistan on concerns of corruption, President Karzai rather than taking serious action, chose to confront with the US. During the same time, it was reported that $4.2 billion cash had gone out of Kabul Airport for the luxurious villas in Dubai.

With extreme criticism, and corruption being the lead story from Afghanistan on international media, President Karzai did take some symbolic steps. The Supreme Court issued arrest warrant of a former minister, and mayor of Kabul was trialed. Some lower ranking officials were sacked. But it was all symbolic for making media reports, because none were punished in actual trials.

Then later in August, we had the story of Zia Salehi, Chief Administrator of the National Security Council, who was released after direct intervention from President Karzai. Later we had reports of cash flowing out of Kandahar Airport. Nobody bothered to question or investigate it.

Just after an year, the promises of fight against corruption is a tale now. It’s obvious that President Karzai cannot take action, because it is not just about the story of a Zia Salehi, but prevailing on a very large scale. Last week, AzizullahLudin, the head of High Office for Oversight and Anticorruption said high ranking officials, including cabinet ministers, are involved in corruption. He added that these officials consider themselves to be above the law and do not cooperate with the anticorruption agency’s investigations. Mr. Ludin added that he had told President Karzai about this. As if President Karzai doesn’t know. But whenever faced with criticism in media or by officials of western donor countries, the favorite mantra of President Karzai is to blame the internationals. It’s what we say in Dari “bigir ki nagirit“.

Recently the Government has blocked investigations into the corruption case against former governor of Kapisa Ghulam Qawis Abu Bakr. He was removed from the governor’s post after former US Commander in Afghanistan General Petraeus handed over proof to President Karzai that he was helping the Taliban insurgents. He is a former commander of Hizb-e-Islami.

The allegation of corruption against Abu Bakr includes the case that he received $200,000 (about 9.5 million Afghanis) in exchange for a construction contract. Other allegations are that he used the foreign donations for roads, schools and clinics for stone and gravel of his three luxurious houses in Kabul, and a large house in Kapisa. Local small construction companies were asked to ‘contribute’ truckloads of gravel and stone for his homes, otherwise their projects would be shut down.

Abu Bakr’s case is a single example of how deep the Administration of President Karzai is plagued with corruption officials. He cannot take action for several reasons, including his political and tribal alliances.
There have been about 2000 cases investigated by the anticorruption unit since 2009, but most have been blocked, because all those who were found involved in corruption were high-profile officials and aides of President Karzai, like Zia Salehi and Abu Bakr. Only in 28 cases of small level corruption involving low-ranking officials, convictions have taken place.

Its true that due to three decades of war, destruction of governance institutions and infrastructure, corruption has become a deep-rooted cancer in our society. It’s not just limited to the bigwigs in Karzai Administration, but to the bottom in society, including the private sector. President Karzai has to keep his promises to fight against this plague and get rid of his corrupt officials. But there is no serious commitment.

The U.S. is equally guilty in this mess. It’s all the money of US taxpayers that go into pockets of our corrupt officials, but the Obama Administration has decided to keep quiet on the huge corruption in Karzai Administration. All the donor countries must make sure their money do not end up for luxurious residences of our governors and ministers.

The US Congress should take serious notice of this and pressurize the Obama Administration for investigations of the billions of US dollars gone to the villas of Dubai by the gang of corrupt mafia in Kabul. All aid money coming to Kabul should be conditioned for accountability and transparency. On domestic level, unless there is a strong commitment from President Karzai himself, there won’t be any success.

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1 Comment

Filed under Corruption, President Karzai

One response to “A Tale of Karzai’s Anticorruption Efforts

  1. ali

    what a load of bullshit you have written. now a days afghans cannot be fooled by biased opinions such as these. nor they can be fooled by war mongering warlords, so called the opposition. those times are gone. now its time for peace and we afghans want peace before anything.

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