Pay to Play: By 2014 Afghans Are Due to Take over Complete Responsibility for Defending Their Country, Basing It on Good Governance, Rule of Law and Transparency. but Is the Country So Riven by Corrupt Practices as to Render the Transition to Mature Statehood Almost beyond Hope?

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A NUMBER OF RECENT PRESS REPORTS SHOW that wealthy Afghans, including many business leaders, are quietly leaving the country. Increasing numbers of Afghan entrepreneurs and members of the Afghan upper class, concerned about future security in their homeland, have been buying homes abroad. Real estate purchases by Afghans in the first half of 2012 were 27% higher than they were during the same period in 2011. In the first half of the year, Afghans purchased 114 properties in one Middle East country alone. A recent report on governance in Afghanistan notes: "many Afghan property transactions have not been registered and the actual figure could be three or four times higher than the 'official' rate".

Massive Embezzlement

Meanwhile, although not all Afghan establishment figures are buying homes abroad, most have been moving their money there. Growing numbers of the country's governing military, establishment figures and captains of industry, are moving their cash out of Afghanistan and into overseas bank accounts. Not by bank transfer but in suitcases and vacuum-packed bundles, air freighted out of Kabul Airport in solid blocks of currency, mostly US dollars.

In 2011, an estimated $4.5bn was flown out of the country in this way. Officials, who have sought to stem the flight of capital, believe much of the money comes from massive embezzlement of foreign aid, corruption or the narcotics trade. Everyone, it seems, is on the make; and those not involved are subject to a life of being bled dry by corrupt officials at all levels of society.

Corruption shrivels the effectiveness of government and creates a yawning gulf between authority and the people it is supposed to serve. Yet it remains rife, widespread and rampant.

Basis for Corruption

The process of removing the Taliban from government by December 2001 left Afghanistan in ruins, societally, politically, and financially. The international community rallied round and, together with a wide range of NGOs, set up aid programmes covering education, health, governance, stabilisation and civic society capacity-building.

What then developed were two chains that would eventually merge with a third to form the basis for a corruption growth industry. Evidence emerged of the Taliban re-infiltrating Afghanistan as an insurgency, alongside the influx of billions of US dollars in donor aid money, and the rise of a criminal patronage network based on mutual power-brokering and steerage of narcotics and money-laundering.

This confluence led to the emergence of what has become known as 'pay to play', borne out of an orchestrated scheme to exploit donor aid for personal gain. It ensures that those who might wish to stop the rot, are either bought off or removed from power. Those who 'play' pay for influence and a piece of the action. If you don't have the money you borrow it, and then embezzle or extort from weaker groups, in order to repay the loan back, and continue to line your own pockets. Surveys by Transparency International, Integrity Watch, the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime and the Asia Foundation show that corruption in Afghanistan thrives across all strata of society, from the village policeman to certain officials of a District Community Council, through provincial police and customs commanders, across to landowners, the judiciary, and politicians. All corrupt officials become part of the loosely termed and ill-defined criminal patronage network. The types of corruption that keep such malign influencers in position are many.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Predatory corruption is the first type, whereby petty officials--local civil servants, the judiciary, local government officers and police--demand bribes of local citizens for a variety of services, perhaps something as seemingly innocuous as passing unhindered through a police checkpoint.

Then there is the nepotism, favouritism and 'networking'--awarding positions, promotions or other benefits based on personal relationships or tribal networks, rather than on the basis of qualifications or suitability for the post. …