After a decade of war and billions of US dollars in Western aid, Afghanistan is drowning in a tide of corruption that is exacerbating conflict and stifling economic development, experts say.
Corruption is enabling the drug trade to thrive and pushing Afghans towards the Taliban, analysts warn — fuelling the two drivers of instability in the war-torn country.
Afghan Anti-corruption Network head Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam says graft lies at the heart of most of the country’s problems.
In January, an Afghan soldier killed five of his French trainers at a base in Kapisa, in the country’s northeast. According to the US news Web site McClatchy, he bribed a recruiter first to join the Afghan army and then again to rejoin after deserting.
Corruption among the security forces is rife — the Afghan Ministry of the Interior recently fired 70 police officers in western Afghanistan.
“I’ll never say that the first problem of Afghanistan is security. The first one is corruption,” Mohammad Qasem Halimi of the Asia Foundation NGO said.
As a former official with the Supreme Court, Halmi said he ordered the arrest of 182 judges in the five years he served there.
“In the last five years we have sacked 207 Supreme Court employees, including 65 judges and 70 administrative staff, for corruption,” Afghan Supreme Court spokesman Abdul Wakil Omari said.
In a country that produces 90 percent of the world’s opium, drugs are another huge problem.
Sayed Habib, head of drug addiction problems at the Afghan Ministry of Health, in February denounced what he called the “linkages” between organized criminals and the ministry for counter-narcotics.
“There is widespread corruption within the government organs,” High Office of Anti-Corruption chairman Azizullah Lodin said.
Gesturing through his office window, he lamented the impunity enjoyed by criminals with political connections.
“Look. This is government land, but powerful people came here and built houses,” he said. “I see people coming back from Iran and Pakistan and they don’t even have a small room whereas the powerful ones capture this public land.”
“If you can’t deal with those big buildings, how can you deal with the people under the bridges?” he added.
The near-collapse in 2010 of the Kabul Bank, the country’s biggest private lender responsible for paying 80 percent of government employees came to symbolize the extent of the country’s graft problem.
Its owners, including brothers of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his vice-president, were accused of pocketing US$900 million in illegal loans, prompting the IMF to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid.
More recently, the disappearance of US$42 million from the budget of Kabul’s main military hospital and the US$60 million missing from the coffers of customs in Herat caused a national scandal.
Even junior officials use whatever power they have to squeeze extra money for doing their job. The going rate for a passport is US$100 to US$500 and the public health system works on the same basis.
In 2010 Transparency International named Afghanistan the world’s second most corrupt country — tied with Myanmar — behind Somalia.