by ZACH ROSENBERG
First, it’s worth noting just where Afghanistan stands, and the Failed States Index is a good place to start. Note Afghanistan’s overall position as the sixth-most failed state in the world. The relevant measurement of corruption is “Delegitimization of the State,” in which category Afghanistan gets a score of 10 out of 10, the same score as Somalia, and just ahead of Chad and Sudan.
At first I thought a 10 was a little unfair. Are the rigged elections and blatantly corrupt politics really that much worse than Niger, victim of a recent coup? Is the corruption really worse than Equatorial Guinea, whose leadership is alleged to be tightly intertwined with large-scale drug smuggling? Maybe, maybe not; “massive and endemic corruption,” as the category is defined, is a certainty here, as is the ruling elite’s resistance to accountability, their links (and likely control over) to criminal networks and the distinct lack of support from everyone, from the Afghan population — all of it, as far as I can tell — to their greatest world-stage ally and current occupying force, the U.S. government.
The Afghan Analyst Network’s Kate Clark writes a blog post about just how you get a high-ranking government position. It’s an anecdotal but fascinating portrayal of grand corruption — and a partial explanation for why Afghanistan rates so low. Of particular interest is just how open and unworried the involved figures are portrayed. In some political systems corruption is handled subtly, through intricate channels and using vague language. In Afghanistan, an interested minister simply calls the target and makes an offer. The money flows out by the boxful; much of it goes to Dubai, the region’s financial (and money-laundering) hub, where many high Afghan government officials own property.
There are reports that corruption investigations are being actively blocked, surprising nobody. For detailed information on corruption in Afghanistan, the Afghan Evaluation and Research Unit has an excellent report about state-level and local corruption, including a good primer and context. Integrity Watch Afghanistan’s new corruption survey puts some good numbers on the perception of corruption among the population. It’s high, in case you’re wondering. The perception of corruption goes a long way toward encouraging support for the Taliban, and recognition of this has led to some drastic action.