Afghanistan’s Endemic Corruption – Iain Blackwood

The author has elected out of all the subject matter taught on the Security, Conflict and International Development course to discuss ‘corruption’. Although the subject matter is discussed, the author has first hand experience of corruption, which other individuals who work in conflict zones will undoubtedly have experience of and will have to contend with.  As the author has been working and living in Afghanistan for a number of years and has experienced corruption in his daily business dealings and within his own organisation, which diverted funds allocated in assisting Afghanistans humanitarian needs.  Furthermore, corruption within Afghanistan is not only a problem but is happening on endemic proportions and is not just limited to the capital Kabul, but reaches every element of Afghan society.

To give an indication of how endemic corruption is within Afghanistan, the 2015 Asia foundation report, reported that the local Afghan population sees corruption as inescapable, which they encounter daily, and 89.9 percent of Afghans reporting corruption as thee foremost problem in their day-to-day lives and 91.2 percent, when dealing with varying levels of the Afghan government (Asia Foundation, 2015).  These high levels of corruption in the daily lives of the Afghan peoples can be seen as further exacerbating an already troubled emerging fragile state and the newly formed Afghan government it appears has done little in the way of countering the endemic proportions of corruption within Afghanistan.

Corruption in Afghanistan can be all encompassing and encountered in various forms from the man in the street buying bread, to prices being inflated to include extra charges to fuel prices, or government officials wanting their share of the price of registering an Armoured vehicle. Although some of the added fees may be insignificant in size and terms of profit margins, this is corruption and certainly, the sums being asked by Government officials are large and often blatant corruption.  This occurs to local Afghans and International actors and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), alike.  Higher costs are incurred for International organisations as well as local Afghans but Internationals are perceived as being rich and capable of handing over ‘Baksheesh’ a bribe; to officials in order bypass the myriad rules and regulations, get paper work signed and officiated.

According to Transparency International (2015), Afghanistan is ranked 166 out of 168 and third worst country in the world for corruption. Therefore, corruption may emerge from necessity because of low wages or from the lack of education or just a way of Afghan life.  However, corruption is a way of life in Afghanistan and as previously mentioned encountered daily.  Although there have only been a handful of high profile prosecutions over the past decade these have principally involved money laundering through the  ‘hawala’ transfer system, which is an unofficial money system used to transfer proceeds both monetary and physical goods through normal merchant transactions to laundering the proceeds from Afghanistans pervasive opium industry (Ahmed, 2016).  Money laundering through the informal ‘hawala’ black market money transfer system is a major contributing factor in supporting criminality (Maimbo, 2003). This criminality within Afghanistan can further exacerbate an already fragile emerging failed state such as Afghanistan.  It is also known that criminal networks thrive in fragile and conflict states due to the disorganization of state infrastructures as well as other internal and external state dysfunction.  Still the Afghan government has done little prior to the election of Ashraf Ghani in cracking down and where clear cases of corruption have come to light, few cases have been investigated or prosecutions followed (FinTRACA, 2016). This is caused by a number of factors including complicit officials; weak financial polices, a weak government, which lacks both the expertise and will power to enforce its policies and follow through with its prosecution mechanisms Singh, (2015).

Additionally, according to Ashraf Ghani, criminal networks ‘often use formal government positions to promote criminal networks, as a result of which government offices degenerate into little more than a springboard for organized looting’, (Ghani and Lockhart, 2009: 80). To fight corruption it is necessary to initiate and populate educational elimination and reduction strategies together with new broad reaching law-enforcement measures, which would be considered a positive step, forward in fighting Afghanistan’s ongoing corruption and educating its population as to the harm corruption does. However in order to achieve its aims in crime reduction it also has to consider it conflict reduction programmes as crime and conflict go hand in hand in failed states. Although this is a tall order considering its curent unstable political climate and ongoing current counter insurgency (Banfield, 2014).

Postscript

Corruption is a human condition based on personal choice, coercion or group dynamics and has been recorded as far back as biblical times. Public officials have abused their offices for personal gain while populations have taken advantage by corrupting those holding power.  Corruption persists in countries that are susceptible to crime through weak and failed systems and ongoing conflicts where procedures and policies are lacking or do not exist.  It is therefore difficult to respond and prosecute offenders; this in part may be due to the fact that individuals lack the motivation to follow though investigations, or due to the Afghan judicial system having a entrenched corruption problem.

To counter corruption, anti-corruption measures must be embedded within institutions and organisations must be held accountable to higher offices. To do this simple crime reduction measures can be emplaced to deter individuals or groups of attempting to commit corruption, through such measures of having monitoring systems in place, greater transparency which may deter corruption, more surveillance and internal checks and greater prosecution and investigative checks.

Yet, these measures can also be implemented and adjusted to fit the means and the contextual factors involved. For example, greater monitoring, transparency, and internal checks could lead to those individuals in offices of importance to resist such measures for fear of revealing further malpractices of office or position.  Additionally, only when normal anti-corruption practices are in place and individuals are willing to work within these practices can crime reduction measures and campaigns be successful and ultimately eradicate the problem, however in Afghanistans case that may take some time yet due to the pervasiveness of it.

References

Ahmed, J. (2016) ‘Dirty Money in Afghanistan: How Kabul is Cleaning up the Illicit Economy’, Foreign Affairs, avaialable at https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2016-09-07/dirty-money-afghanistan, (accessed 24th September 2016).

Asia Foundation (2015) ‘Afghanistan in 2015: A Survey of the Afghan People’, San Francisco: Asia Foundation.

FinTRACA (2016) Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA): Home Page, avaialable at http://www.fintraca.gov.af, (accessed 24th September 2016).

Ghani, A. and Lockhart, C. (2009) Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

High Office for Oversight and Anti-corruption (2016) Anti-Corruption Laws & Strategy, available at http://anti-corruption.gov.af/en/page/8477, (accessed 24th September 2016).

Maimbo, S. M. (2003) ‘The Money Exchange Dealers of Kabul: A Study of the Hawala System in Afghanistan’, World Bank Working Paper Series; No: 13, Washington, DC: World Bank, available at http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/335241467990983523/The-money-exchange-dealers-of-Kabul-a-study-of-the-Hawala-system-in-Afghanistan, (accessed 24th September 2016).

Patrick, S. (2011) Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security, New York: Oxford University Press.

Singh, D. (2015) ‘Explaining varieties of corruption in the Afghan Justice Sector’, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 9:(2): 231-255.

Transparency International (2015) Corruption Perception Index 2015, avaialable at http://www.transparency.org/cpi2015#results-table, (accessed 24th September 2016).

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