- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

KHOST CITY, Afghanistan | Dr. Amir Badshah dragged his hands through his white beard with anger.

“Look at this hospital,” said the tall ethnic Pashtun, who directs health services in Khost province. Clutching a contract as he inspected construction in Khost’s new downtown medical center, he kicked the bottom of the hospital’s cement frame only to watch it crumble beneath his shoe.

“Eight-and-half-million dollars to build a clinic and look at how it is being constructed,” he said. “They think I’m too ignorant to know that they have violated the contract. They are wrong. They promised a hospital that would last more than 120 years, and this won’t even last 20.”

Construction of the hospital - along with the rest of the Khost’s downtown government buildings - was in its fourth month in June.

A Provincial Reconstruction Team, headed by U.S. civilian and military personnel, arrived as part of a normal review process to ensure “that all was going as planned,” said Navy Cmdr. Erika L. Sauer.

Cmdr. Sauer, charged with overseeing the project, was surprised when the director approached her with his contract and his complaints. In frustration she said, “If you don’t like it, you can use it for a storage facility.”

“Cheap cement, this is not what the contract states, but look, the governor’s building is built with the best red brick,” Dr. Badshah said. “This is corruption. Where did the rest of the money go? Into the pockets of the contractors.”

The Saifullah Khadem Construction Co., the local company charged with the project, did not reply to repeated requests for comment.

Cmdr. Sauer said she understood the doctor’s concerns, but touted the success of the project, saying, “Now the people of Khost have more than they did in the past.”

She emphasized that the building in the capital of the eastern Afghan province of the same name was built to code and the projects employed Afghan people to reinvigorate the community.

Dr. Badshah isn’t the only one questioning what has happened to billions of dollars in U.S. and other foreign aid since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001. Nearly a dozen other Afghan and foreign officials interviewed recently by The Washington Times said that lack of accountability and persistent reports of corruption have contributed to rising discontent with the Kabul government of President Hamid Karzai and a resurgence of the Taliban.

The drug trade

The enormous profits amassed by opium and heroin traders have allowed corruption to seep into almost every area of the Afghan government, said Thomas Schweich, a former State Department coordinator for counternarcotics in Afghanistan who is now an ambassador for counternarcotics with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“I wanted to believe Karzai for a long time,” said Mr. Schweich, referring to the president’s repeated promises to squelch the drug trade and corruption. “But unfortunately, nothing has changed; if anything, it’s worse.”

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