Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Afghan election: Industrial-scale corruption, or real hope?

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What is a worse prospect for an Afghanistan election – election fraud on an industrial scale or a quiet campaign of intimidation that keeps voters away from the polls, or forces them to vote for the most powerful candidate?
That seems to be the choice facing many Afghan voters ahead of the Sept. 18 parliamentary election, particularly those in the Pashtun tribal belt in the south and east where so much of the fraud that marred last year’s presidential ballot was committed.

Afghan voters can be excused for feeling ballot fatigue. The September vote will be their fourth in six years.
There have been some improvements but the key questions of poor governance, corruption and security remain unanswered despite the number of ballots they have cast. To turn out again will be a real test of their commitment to democracy, a right taken for granted by many in the West and grumbled about when they are asked to exercise it. It would hardly be surprising, given the risks, if many decided not to vote.

But the Sept. 18 poll is important nonetheless. It will be a real test of Afghanistan’s stability, of the progress being made in governance and in the fight against rampant corruption of which so many in government at all levels have been accused.

These are the things that will also be factored into U.S. President Barack Obama’s promised Afghan strategy review in December.

Corruption’s tentacles reaching across Afghanistan

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AFGHANISTAN-TALIBAN/SALAAM

(Mullah Abdul Salaam ... all levels of Afghan society hit by graft. Pic by Omar Subhani, Reuters)

By Sayed Salahuddin

Petty corruption has more than doubled in Afghanistan since 2007, a new survey shows, and nine years after the fall of the Taliban graft drains at least $1 billion a year from the $11 billion economy.

Afghan court underscores governance challenge

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(British Former soldier Bill Shaw (L) sits alongside colleague Maiwand Limar in the Afghan anti-corruption appeals court at the start of his appeal against a two-year conviction for bribery. Shaw's chaotic court appearance underscores the challenge of improving the access to reliable justice for ordinary Afghans.)

(British Former soldier Bill Shaw (L) sits alongside colleague Maiwand Limar in the Afghan anti-corruption appeals court at the start of his appeal against a two-year conviction for bribery. Shaw's chaotic court appearance underscores the challenge of improving the access to reliable justice for ordinary Afghans.)

International aid workers in Afghanistan — and even new U.S. commander General David Petraeus – like to talk of building governance capacity, which basically means making sure the country runs its schools, courts, health services and so on properly.

from Tales from the Trail:

U.S. officials seek to shelve Karzai tensions

Tensions, what tensions?

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew arrived back from Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday, touting the performance of several ministers in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.

OBAMA-AFGHANISTANHis visit came at a particularly tense time in U.S.-Afghan relations after Karzai made some corrosive statements in recent weeks against his donors, blaming the West for much of the corruption in his country and drawing critical comments from the White House.

from The Great Debate:

Dirty money and the war in Afghanistan

In a long report on the war in Afghanistan for the U.S. Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations last summer, one sentence stood out: "If we don't get a handle on the money, we will lose this war to corruption."

The money in this context meant the funds, from multiple illicit sources, that finance the Taliban who are fighting the United States and its allies in a war that is now in its ninth year. Dirty money is greasing corruption on a scale so monumental that Afghanistan ranks 179 (out of 180) on the latest index compiled by Transparency International, a watchdog group based in Berlin.

Will voters in your town believe Karzai is worth dying for?

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Karzai reviews honour guard ahead of his inauguration at his sprawling Kabul palace on Nov. 19
In his inauguration speech on Thursday, Afghan president Hamid Karzai promised to combat corruption and appoint competent ministers, heading off the growing chorus of criticism from the West that his government is crooked and inept. Unsurprisingly, the Western dignitaries in the audience declared that they liked what they heard.

We predicted ahead of time that we would hear positive words about Karzai this week. After all, Western governments need to convince their own voters back home that the veteran Afghan leader’s government is worth sending their sons and daughters to die for. This autumn’s election debacle made Karzai look bad – a U.N.-backed probe found that nearly a third of votes cast for him were fake — but now that’s all over and the West needs him to look as reliable as possible.

Can the West salvage Karzai’s reputation?

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That sure was fast.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told American TV audiences that Afghan President Hamid Karzai needed to take steps to fight graft, including setting up a new anti-corruption task force, if he wants to keep U.S. support. Less than 24 hours later, there was Karzai’s interior minister at a luxury hotel in Kabul — flanked by the U.S. and British ambassadors — announcing exactly that. A new major crimes police task force, anti-corruption prosecution unit and special court will be set up, at least the third time that Afghan authorities and their foreign backers have launched special units to tackle corruption.

There are just a couple of days left before Karzai is inaugurated for a new term as president. Perhaps a few more days after that, U.S. President Barack Obama will announce whether he is sending tens of thousands of additional troops to join the 68,000 Americans and 40,000 NATO-led allies fighting there.

An effective Afghan police force: still wishful thinking

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U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated on Monday his belief that the Afghan police and army had to grow in order to pave the way for a United States and NATO military drawdown in Afghanistan.

Strengthening Afghanistan’s indigenous security forces has always been one of the main planks of the NATO-led ISAF military strategy. But the Afghan police have a lot of problems. The are often accused of endemic corruption, colluding with Taliban insurgents, being poorly trained and badly organised. In some areas, we have reported before, their criminal behaviour has actually turned the communities they are meant to serve toward the Taliban, unwittingly empowering the insurgency.

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