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Ghost money: Is the CIA its own worst enemy?

Written by Saad Mustafa on Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Depressing but not shocking: that would be the reaction of most to reports that the CIA and MI6 have given large amounts of cash to senior members of the Afghan government to buy influence.


Depressing but not shocking: that would be the reaction of most to reports that the CIAand MI6 have given large amounts of cash to senior members of the Afghan government to buy influence. Given that the money packed into suitcases backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags had little or no oversight and often went undeclared, it was somewhat inevitable that rather than buying access to the Afghan government, it would lead to corruption in a country built on patronage networks and loose alliances.

What is perhaps different this time around is the number of people—both from Afghanistan and the international community—who have openly declared that such behaviour is not in the best interests of the country, is a waste of resources, and ultimately does not buy you the cooperation you’re aiming for. A former Afghan budgetary official said ‘the thing about US money is a lot of it goes outside the budget directly through individuals and companies, and that opens the way for corruption’. Similarly, an American official told the New York Times ‘the biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States’. The direct link between US money diverted to fund patronage networks is also not new. In 2010 the US Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs highlighted how US contract money was diverted to fuel a ‘protection racket’ run by a network of warlords commanders and corrupt Afghan officials.

In Afghanistan the international community has always seemed to struggle with balancing short term-stability goals with the long-term self-dependency of the country. This is seen by the international community’s willingness to allow, or at the very least do nothing, about a certain level of illegality in order to maintain the tenuous peace. As an example, Mark Mazzetti in his recent book on the CIA highlights how the clandestine agency directly paid Ahmed Wali Karzai the president’s half-brother, millions of dollars to work for the CIA and train an army of Afghans against the Taliban. However, Ahmed Karzai had a corrosive influence on Southern Afghanistan and was believed by many, including Generals McKiernan and McChrystal (heads of the International Security Assistance Forces), as the man at the centre of widespread corruption. The irony in all of this is that the corruption President Karzai’s half-brother was responsible for was actually turning Afghans towards the Taliban – the CIA was seemingly creating its own problems.

So despite regular reports of corruption, why is there still such a culture of impunity in the country and why isn’t more being done about it? Whilst there is no easy answer, a good place to start might be to critically analyse the Bonn agreement and the international community’s decision to co-opt warlords with questionable backgrounds in order to achieve short-term stability. This in turn meant that corruption and good governance was never discussed as an important part of re-building the country.

Given recent studies suggesting peace agreements that have anti-corruption and good governance provisions built into them have a greater chance of success, the Bonn conference seems like an opportunity missed. But because the international community saw these warlords as an auxiliary force against the insurgents, certain allowances were made. This sent the wrong message from the start and helped foster impunity. If one looks back at Afghan history, corruption is not endemic in the culture of the country or its people.

There are many lessons that we can draw from this experience. However, perhaps the most important is an answer to why corruption was not initially taken as a serious issue by both the international community and Afghans. And once both stakeholders started to see the bitter impact of corruption in-country, why has there not been a considerable improvement in the situation? As part of our new work in Afghanistan, these are the main questions we are currently asking around 60 to 80 people from the international community including journalists, academics, military and police officers, government officials and practitioners who have been involved in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2013. We are also asking the same question to around 20 leading Afghan actors to get a sense of what happened, what went right (and wrong), and what lessons we can learn for future interventions to make sure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. The findings of this report will be available later on this summer.

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Read 10505 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47

Saad Mustafa

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