Afghan corruption helps Taliban recruit

NY Times:

Rampant corruption in Afghanistan provides the Taliban with its No. 1 recruiting tool, the Obama administration’s special representative to the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, said Wednesday. But he insisted that the United States was taking adequate precautions to cut down on the misuse of billions of dollars in American aid to the country.

Responding to deepening unease on Capitol Hill about where aid money is going, Mr. Holbrooke said recent reports of billions of dollars in cash being flown out of Kabul International Airport wrongly suggested that American civilian aid was being siphoned from Afghanistan.

“We’re not missing money,” Mr. Holbrooke said at a hearing of the House subcommittee that oversees financing of the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development. The shortage of banks in Afghanistan, he said, means that Afghans use cash for most commercial transactions, which they then transfer, legally, in vast amounts to banks in Dubai.

Mr. Holbrooke acknowledged that some of the money probably came from illegal activities like drug trafficking. He said corruption was still endemic in Afghanistan, describing it as a “malignancy” that could destroy everything the United States was trying to achieve there. The Taliban, in its propaganda, highlights the corruption of local officials to lure people to the insurgency.

“If you read Taliban propaganda, which we study very carefully, they never mention the issue of women, girls in school, because that was their most losing issue,” Mr. Holbrooke said. “What they talk about is corruption, which is why we’re here. That’s their No. 1 recruiting tool.”


Mr. Holbrooke and Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the Agency for International Development, provided charts to show how the administration certified Afghan ministries, monitored programs and used third-party auditors to make sure aid was properly spent. Even so, Dr. Shah said, it is not easy to determine whether the aid is effective. For example, the United States has not measured the effect of agricultural aid on crop yields or the incomes of farmers.

This is the first reasonable explanation I have seen of the cash flights from Kabul. It is also encouraging that we have a handle on what is being spent and where. Afghanistan is still looking like a money pit when it comes to investments. With all its resources, it has not been very good at exploiting them. I suspect corruption probably has something to do with that too.


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