8 February 2013, 15:29

Corruption in Afghanistan has risen sharply. Surprising, isn't it?

Corruption in Afghanistan has risen sharply. Surprising, isn't it?

According to the UN office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report released on Thursday, the level of corruption in Afghanistan has risen sharply and now accounts for twice the amount the Afghani government is receiving in tax and customs revenues.

According to the survey, the total amount of bribes paid by Afghans in 2012 reached $3.9 billion which constitutes a more than 40% rise compared to 2009 and almost equals the amount of annual international aid to Afghanistan pledged by donors.

Almost half of Afghans paid brides in 2012, the worst affected area being education – people are paying teachers for good grades and admission to popular courses. Local government officers, judges, prosecutors and policemen are also found to be among the most corrupt.

The average amount of bribes paid has also risen from about $150 four years ago to more than $200 in 2012. In a country with an average per capita income of about $600 a year this means that most services remain unavailable for the vast majority of the population. Still, strange as it may seem, a growing number of Afghans (more than 68% of those surveyed) say they find it acceptable for civil servants to take small bribes.

Indeed, as is pointed out by the BBC's Afghanistan correspondent Bilal Sarwary, what is revealed in this report could just be the tip of the iceberg.

In fact, it mostly surveyed ordinary people who had to pay bribes to low level officials, therefore the issue of corruption at the highest level of power and business hierarchy remains almost intact. The survey also concentrates on bribes only, leaving aside other forms of corruption including kickbacks and fraudulent allocations of international aid and government spendings. More so, it is unclear to what extent respondents felt able to speak openly about the bribery and corruption they have to contend with.

The weirdest case about the state of corruption in Afghanistan is that it has been an open secret for years, ever since the West imposed the present government on the country, that Afghanistan is ranking among the most corrupt countries in the world, second maybe only to Somalia.

And definitely, the breeding ground for the rise of corruption has been Western military presence. Still, both the West and President Hamid Karzai are exchanging mutual accusations, the latter constantly pledging to fight corruption.

With his closest family member being involved in a number of corruption scandals this only demonstrates just another example of the topsy-turvy world we are witnessing (or, living in).

The only force obviously benefitting from the rise of corruption in Afghanistan are the Taliban – Afghans are getting more and more alienated from the Kabul regime and are driven towards the Taliban insurgency.

In the meantime, President Karzai who will leave office in 2014 shortly before the departure of his Western curators has obviously adopted an "après nous le déluge" approach, striving only to accumulate as much as possible on his foreign accounts within the remaining year or so. This explains his tactics of blaming the international community's system of giving contracts to officials for spreading corruption, and eagerly accepting the system itself.

The ingenuity of the righteous indignation demonstrated by the West is also highly doubtful. With contracts being given out totally uncontrollably, the system existing in Afghanistan presents vast opportunities for the Western officials stationed there for fishing in the muddy water.

The same refers to the highly advertized fight against opium production in Afghanistan. While Afghan opium as such is of little concern for Americans, since it is trafficked mostly to Russia and Europe, the US military won't even lift a finger to eradicate poppy crops, but won't hesitate to use the capacities available to them in order to engage in trafficking.

So, the rise of corruption reflected in the UN survey should not come as any surprise. Both the present Karzai government and the Western military in Afghanistan are no more than timeservers, and as such, care for today only, having little concern for what awaits Afghanistan in the nearest future.

Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies

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