Winning: The Thieves Of Afghanistan


June 17, 2010: The increased intelligence effort in Afghanistan, largely the result of transferring equipment and experienced personnel from Iraq, has led to a big increase in information about what's going on in Afghanistan. Of most immediate interest is the low morale among captured Taliban. A lot of the cash that used to go to Afghan Taliban (for payroll, weapons and equipment like radios and transport) is now going to the beleaguered Taliban big shots in Pakistan. Some captured Taliban complain of their own leaders keeping cash for themselves, or paying a kinsman way too much for supplies, equipment or services. In other words, the Taliban also have a corruption problem. That's really no surprise, as captured documents, as far back as late 2001, revealed Taliban leadership complaining about theft and misuse of funds within the organization. Until recently, there was so much drug money coming in that there was still enough to go around. But the NATO offensive in Helmand hurt drug gang cash flow.

Moreover, the billions of dollars generated each year by the drug gangs has proved vulnerable to detection and seizure. The U.S. has sent more banking and money laundering experts to Afghanistan to work with intelligence forces to find drug cash, and seize it. This has made it more difficult for the drug gangs to move money, and use it. There have also been increasing arrests of local banking officials because of the American Treasury Department investigators. When cash flow started drying up, corrupt Taliban officials took care of themselves first. That was made worse by the skyrocketing cash needs of the Taliban in Pakistan, where the army has been invading Taliban held territory, destroying bases and forcing Taliban leaders to seek new hideouts. That costs a lot of money.

But American intel has also been picking up a lot of information about corruption among Afghan government officials. These guys also have lots of money to move, and they are also getting caught by the U.S. Treasury bloodhounds. This has provided more headaches for American diplomats and military commanders, because government corruption is very unpopular among most Afghans (who are not benefitting from it.) The corruption, and the resulting poor government performance, make it difficult to replace tribal (pro-Taliban or not) control with district, provincial and central government administration.

President Karzai is not responding well to increasing Western pressure to clean up the corruption. While Karzai himself is believed to be reasonably clean, friends and family members, not to mention government subordinates, are heavily involved with stealing foreign aid, and taking bribes from drug gangs. In response, Karzai has recently accused the West of plotting against him, and threatened to join the Taliban. Karzai also accused the West, not his own people, of rigging last year's election that got him reelected. Presidential aides scrambled to deny Karzai said any of this (or didn't really mean it), and maybe he didn't. But the growing Western pressure to stop stealing and start governing is getting a reaction. The senior politicians don't want to stop getting rich, but they also don't want the Western government and media digging into government affairs, and publicizing who is stealing what, and putting more restrictions on how aid money can be spent. Karzai copes with this by trying to make a big deal of how important it is for Afghanistan to be free of foreign influence (but not foreign money). Most of the Afghan government budget is foreign aid. The vast majority of Afghans are against corruption and inept government (although most Afghans will accept a bribe if offered one). Something's got to give.



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