- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Afghan government’s failure to tackle rampant corruption is widely seen as providing impetus to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, according to a new report.

The survey by the anti-corruption charity Integrity Watch Afghanistan found that corruption has grown to epidemic proportions, with Afghans paying $1 billion in bribes in 2009. Half of the 6,500 Afghans surveyed said this fosters the growth of the Taliban.

“Taliban uses corruption in the government as a strategic political approach to delegitimize the government and gain greater support among the population,” said Karolina Olofsson, head of advocacy and communications at Integrity Watch Afghanistan, in an e-mail interview from Kabul.

The survey found that corruption had doubled since 2006 and one adult in seven experienced direct bribery in 2009. Twenty-eight percent of Afghan households paid a bribe to obtain at least one public service.

According to the report, corruption is threatening the “legitimacy of state-building, badly affects state-society relations, feeds frustration and the support for the insurgency, leads to increasing inequality, impedes the rule of law according to Afghan standards, hinders access to basic public services, which impacts the poor most severely, and has a major negative effect on economic development.”

Allegations of corruption permeate all levels of government in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been accused of turning a blind eye to the corrupt practices of his half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the top official in the southern province of Kandahar.

Ahmed Wali Karzai has denied charges that he has links with drug dealers and insurgents, and has dared his detractors to convict him if they can produce any evidence.

The Integrity Watch Afghanistan survey does not focus on political corruption, examining government institutions and structures.

U.S. forces are conducting a major operation against terrorists in Kandahar. But U.S. officials in private express frustration that the biggest challenge they face in Kandahar is governance and corruption issues.

“The Afghans you meet in the street or the Afghans you talk to are also equally complaining about the corruption,” Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan and head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told an audience at a Washington think tank last week.

Although the police, courts and administrative services demand the highest number of bribes, the sectors that require the biggest bribes, with an average bribe of $180, are education and health.

Ms. Olofsson said the survey finds that the people affected the most are the poorest in the country, which threatens poverty reduction efforts.

“The impact of corruption becomes more troublesome as the sectors mostly compromised are related to basic public services,” she said.

Development aid being poured into Afghanistan by international donors, including the United States, is seen as being most prone to corruption.

“The size of development funds directed to Afghanistan have been massive and they have mainly been channeled through development and governance routes, which are precisely the main victims of corruption as it weakens state legitimacy and excludes civilians from the foundations of their own social and economic development progress,” Ms. Olofsson said.

Mr. de Mistura said the corruption is linked to “the intensity, quantity and short timeframe of the huge investments that are coming inside Afghanistan.”

“One Afghan told me, ‘Well, you know, when you get so much money, so intensely concentrated in such a short time and, on top of it, you have the feeling that you may not be there next year, the temptation becomes quite irresistible,’ ” he said.

Mr. de Mistura suggested that a longer-term involvement in the development of Afghanistan could help solve that problem.

The Obama administration also is examining contracts to ensure proper controls are in place to check corruption.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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