Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Fighting for Legitimacy in Afghanistan: The Creation of the Anti-Corruption Justice Center

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Fighting for Legitimacy in Afghanistan: The Creation of the Anti-Corruption Justice Center

Article excerpt

This article recounts the efforts of international stakeholders who, working with a small number of Afghan officials, threw the equivalent of a geopolitical "hail Mary" in 2015 to reverse the culture of corruption and impunity that permeated the highest levels of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA). The NATO-led Resolute Support (RS) Mission's efforts in Afghanistan to rejuvenate counter- and anti- corruption lines of operations with the creation of the Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC) is worth examining.1 The ACJC is not a magic talisman that will eliminate all corruption but, if properly resourced, the Center can help the GIRoA regain political legitimacy in the eyes of its people, its soldiers, and the world.

The Stage is Set

In late 2015, many were skeptical of the survivability of the GIRoA. Afghan civilians viewed the GIRoA and the leadership of the National Unity Government (NUG) as illegitimate because of widespread corruption within all levels of the government, to include the judiciary-a belief supported by the unwillingness of international stakeholders to commit additional manpower or donations. Afghan soldiers, in turn, realized that, while they were fighting, their leaders had embezzled their salaries and supplies. Many U.S. and NATO military leaders, as well as international stakeholders, failed to see the correlation between poor performance and corruption, and their central focus remained on the kinetic fight, with the presumption that with battlefield success, political stability would follow.

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, seeking to hold together the shaky NUG with one of his political opponents as a partner, seemed to lack the will or ability to pursue counter-corruption policies without fracturing his own power base. He had successfully, but controversially created the National Procurement Authority (NPA) as an anticorruption measure, although he had to personally oversee its activities, as he did with too many projects in which his underlings lacked the will to reform. Apart from the famous Kabul Bank case that failed to recover lost funds, the Attorney General's office had not brought a serious corruption case to trial in years.2

It is easy to point to the many weaknesses of the GIRoA and unbridled self-interest within its institutions as the reason for lack of progress on counter-corruption initiatives. However, while the Afghans have perpetuated many of their problems, reasoning that solely places blame on them is a convenient and self-serving rationale. International stakeholders had for years enabled inaction-their poor oversight on donor expenditures has been well-documented by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction-and their lack of will to tie aid to corruption reform further fueled the problem.

Initial Reforms

The predecessor of the NATO-led RS Mission-the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)-did attempt to tackle corruption with the creation in 2009 of the Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) and the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Shafafiyat, commanded by then U.S. Army Brigadier General H.R. McMaster.3 However, the international community engaged in counter-corruption activities largely abandoned these efforts by 2013 after the failed Salehi and Kam Air cases, which prompted then Afghan President Hamid Karzai to gut the MCTF and the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption for daring to reveal corruption within his regime.

RS, when it transitioned from ISAF in 2015, kept only a token unit strictly limited to anti-corruption activities with Afghan inspectors general in the Ministries of Defense (MOD) and Interior (MOI). The Mission justified this retreat on two bases: counter-corruption activities undermine donor confidence, potentially at risk of turning off donations altogether; and any anti-corruption initiative must be "Afghanled"-a school of thought that was not a consensus view. …

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