The perils of corruption in Afghanistan

We will not win the war against religious radicalism and extremism through military means alone.

A member of the Afghan security force stands in front of a damaged building a day after attacks outside the Afghan parliament in Kabul [REUTERS]
A member of the Afghan security force in front of a damaged building a day after attacks outside the Afghan parliament [REUTERS]

The conflict in Afghanistan is raging once again. The Afghan security forces are overwhelmed by the growing number of Taliban attacks across the country and in major cities, particularly Kabul. Monday’s brazen attack on the Afghan parliament has an important political significance because the insurgents could have paralysed the country’s symbolic centre of power. 

I predicted this dire state of affairs in January, in a piece I wrote for Al Jazeera, foreseeing an escalation in Taliban offensives this summer. In April, a UN report indicated an eight percent rise in civilian casualties for the first three months of 2015.

The intensification of the conflict is undermining the national unity government’s efforts to fulfil its commitment to fighting corruption and improving governance.

Afghan parliament suicide attack captured on video

During his inaugural speech last September, President Ashraf Ghani laid out his vision for Afghanistan. Fixing the systemic corruption that has plagued all aspects of life in the country would top his agenda, we were told.

Governance and corruption

Throughout the past 13 years, high levels of corruption and bad governance have seriously thwarted the international community’s efforts to stabilise Afghanistan. Millions of dollars that were allocated for the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan were misused or wasted.

One particularly disheartening instance was the disappearance of $1bn in the 2010 Kabul Bank scandal, in which a cohort of unscrupulous businessmen and politicians carried out a Ponzi scheme in the largest private Afghan bank.

Many Afghans have accused former President Hamid Karzai of facilitating the emergence of an economic system based on mafia structure and patronage.

In addition to the growing security and economic challenges arising from NATO’s drawdown and declining international financial assistance, the government must grapple with a myriad of other problems inherited from its predecessor’s legacy of corruption and bad governance.

Regrettably, corruption is no longer considered taboo in Afghan society; it has been ingrained in the culture as an accepted norm.


At present, the government is preoccupied with the country’s worsening security situation, economic recession, and peace talks with insurgents, which have all but monopolised the its attention for the past several months. Nevertheless, the leadership must not lose sight of other important issues like systemic governmental failures and corruption.

Now that its coffers are empty, the government is greatly dependent on contributions from the international community. However, international financial assistance is contingent upon fulfilment of the pledges made by the previous government during the Tokyo conference of 2012. The Afghan government committed itself to enacting and enforcing a legal framework for fighting corruption.

Alarming data

Despite these lofty promises, little progress has been made, and Afghanistan remains at the bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

According to the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), corruption remains one of the major impediments to the stabilisation and reconstruction process in Afghanistan.

An alarming report was recently published by SIGAR on the Ministry of Education’s falsification of data. Some senior officials from the ministry had deliberately fabricated data and statistics on the country’s number of schools and teachers in order to steal international funding, diverting it from the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. In fact, millions of US taxpayer dollars have paid for fake schools and ghost teachers in Afghanistan.

Regrettably, corruption is no longer considered taboo in Afghan society; it has been ingrained in the culture as an accepted norm. Therefore, a multifaceted approach will be required to curb and control it.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani [EPA]
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani [EPA]

Until now, the Afghan government and the donor community have tried hard to curb corruption in the public sector. However, while politicians and public sector officials often benefit from corruption, the main perpetrator is the private sector that bribes them. In our country, corruption at its highest level takes place because of collusion between political appointees and contractors from the business sector.

Kickback scheme

For example, early this year, the oversight committee for the Ministry of Defence contracts, under Ghani’s supervision, revealed a serious kickback scheme, in which the ministry paid an excess of $200m to fuel contractors. An investigation into the situation ultimately led to the cancellation of these contracts and the sacking of senior ministry officials.

In order to reduce the current level of corruption in the country, we need to tackle it beyond the public sector. We must instil internationally accepted values such as integrity, transparency, and ethical business practices into the Afghan culture, in both the public and private sectors. Other countries have adopted multifaceted approaches to fighting corruption, and one possible model for Afghanistan’s progress is the approach instituted in Malaysia.

We will not win the war against religious radicalism and extremism by military means alone. A responsible and accountable government – free from corruption and committed to promoting transparency and integrity across Afghan society – is the best weapon to deprive insurgents of their public support.

Haroun Mir is the Executive Director of Business Integrity Network Afghanistan (BINA).

Habib Wardak is the programme officer at BINA.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.