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Afghanistan corruption report

The international community contributed to corruption in Afghanistan as an ‘unintended side-effect’ of the intervention after 2001; and it took that international community a long time to see that corruption was a threat to the mission. So says a report issued by the anti-corruption pressure group Transparency International UK’s Defence & Security Programme (TI-DSP).

Corruption damaged the integrity and sustainability of Afghan national institutions, sapped the confidence of Afghan society in the international community and hampered capacity-building efforts. Those efforts also failed to adequately deter the activities of corrupt actors. The 72-page report, Corruption: lessons from the international mission in Afghanistan, is based on interviews with 75 people in the Afghanistan mission, including members of the international community and Afghan nationals.

The report identifies nine reasons the international community was slow to develop a response to corruption. These include complacency about the nature and extent of corruption threats, political dilemmas involved in responding to corrupt actors, perverse spending incentives that encouraged rapid disbursement of funds, and political moves by elements in the Afghan government to avoid or discredit anti-corruption efforts.

Mark Pyman, Director of TI-DSP, said: “Complacency on corruption put the international mission at risk. No matter how much money is spent, missions and assistance measures are unlikely to be successful without recognising and addressing corruption threats. Corruption is not a new challenge, nor is it specific to Afghanistan. Unless we equip ourselves to be better prepared, future missions are doomed to repeat old mistakes.”

The report calls for anti-corruption and integrity-building measures to be included from the outset of planning for future interventions and assistance. The report proposes a framework for policy makers to address corruption issues better in future assistance and missions:

1. Equip policy makers and those involved in implementation with the knowledge and tools to understand corruption risk and how to address it.
2. Recognise the threat of corruption from the outset of a mission, and include a requirement to tackle corruption in the mission mandate.
3. Adopt a common anti-corruption approach across all institutions involved in the mission, fully involving civil society.
4. Spend less, disclose more. Measure success through outcomes and effectiveness, not funds spent.
5. Strengthen oversight by national and international bodies.

All that said, once the problem was recognised, several good anti-corruption measures were put in place in Afghanistan. These included the Afghanistan Independent Joint Anti-corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, a group of respected Afghan and international experts; a full time international anti-corruption support group; and a task force to examine potential fraud and corruption in international contracts. Such mechanisms could be replicated in other fragile environments.

General David Petraeus, the ISAF Commander from 2010 onwards, stated in an interview for the report: “We could’ve started doing what was done in 2010 sooner. As you begin to ramp up in Afghanistan and …pour substantial amounts of additional forces, funds, civilians, and other assets into the country, that is the time to increase focus and elements to try to identify and then deal with the cancer that is corruption.”

Afghanistan ranked 172nd out of 175 countries in the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index. A poll by the Asia Foundation found that Afghans’ faith in the integrity of their institutions is worsening. It is unclear according to TI how much money from the international mission in Afghanistan has been used as intended. As the report says, corruption is often seen as subsidiary to ideological drivers of insurgency. But most interviewees countered that insecurity enables corrupt networks to function better and sustain instability (for drug smuggling for instance).

Total US spending on the war since 2001 exceeds $760 billion; with $686 billion spent on Operation Enduring Freedom and $104 billion on reconstruction funds. Adjusting for inflation, spending on reconstruction funds has been greater than the Marshall Plan. Despite billions of dollars allocated for military training, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan reports that just 29 per cent of Afghan army units have the training required to allow them to operate independently with advisers.


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