Leadership: Cutting The Strings

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November 20, 2010:  President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is not considered personally corrupt, but he belongs to a family and tribe that contains many corrupt individuals. Hamid Karzai apparently listens to the drug lords, as that explains his recent calls for an end to U.S. American Special Forces troops making night raids (which almost always result in the capture of a terrorist or drug gang operative) and American military operations (which have recently driven many pro-Taliban warlords and tribal chiefs to ask Karzai for help). The drug gangs are hurting big time, with raw materials costs more than doubled (because of crop disease) and tons of heroin captured or destroyed recently, along with the improvised labs that turn the opium into heroin.

Earlier, Karzai ordered a ban on private security firms (except those guarding diplomats and military installations), as a way to get some of the heat off the drug gangs. The ban is to take effect by the end of the year, and donor nations, especially the United States, are stalemated with Afghan president Karzai over the issue. The ban makes it difficult, or very dangerous, for foreigners to check on how their foreign aid money is being used. For the Afghan officials, preventing foreigners from supervising foreign aid is essential if officials are to be able to steal most of the aid. This sort of corruption is seen as a major opportunity, and it has been crippled by the insistence that even more foreign auditors and supervisors be sent in. But Afghanistan is an unruly and dangerous place, especially for foreigners. There are far more deaths to this "usual violence" than to "the war" (against the Taliban and drug gangs). Foreign aid workers will not go outside their heavily guarded compounds without a security team. But they won't even have a guarded compound if the presidential decree is carried out.

With nearly all the aid workers gone, the government would get what they always wanted, complete control over the billions in foreign aid that arrive in Afghanistan each year. It has long annoyed the Afghan government that most of this aid is delivered to the Afghan people by foreigners, denying officials an opportunity to steal much of it. While the donor governments can try to watch over the aid disbursement using diplomatic personnel, the Afghans can counter that by limiting how many diplomatic personnel can enter the country. Karzai is being obstinate about this issue, as the inability to plunder the foreign aid has made it difficult to get more warlords and senior politicians under his control. U.S. aid alone, since 2001, has been $55 billion, and too much of it escaped the grasp of corrupt Afghan officials.

Iran has recently demonstrated how this is supposed to be done. It got out, as Afghan officials flew back from a recent diplomatic visit to Iran, that some of the Afghans boarded the aircraft were carrying bags of cash. The Afghans admit that this cash came from Iran, as part of the aid Iran has been providing. But the bags of cash were obviously for the Afghan officials, and the Afghans could not understand what all the media fuss was about. The Iranians understood that, if you want to provide aid for Afghanistan, you have to start at the top. Some of it will trickle down to those who need it most (according to those pesky Westerners). But the Western aid donors are threatening to halt their aid, rather than see most of it stolen by Afghan politicians. This has caused a stalemate, as Karzai has to judge how serious his donors are with this threat.

 


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