As corrupt officials continue to plunder Afghanistan's coffers, high hopes of a new beginning after the 2014 elections have been dashed for millions of Afghans.
Ghani’s Anti-Graft War: What Has Changed So Far?
In 2014, Afghanistan marked the first peaceful and democratic transfer of political power from one elected president to another, starting a new chapter in regional and international politics with a national unity government poised to pull the war-hit nation out of trouble on many fronts. This included an expectation of a new beginning on the economic, political, social fronts and the resilient Taliban insurgency, ambiguity in Afghanistan’s foreign policy towards its neighbors and the issue of endemic corruption.
The peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan however was a major breakthrough in the nation’s political history, particularly in view of the decades of war and violence that has traumatized the lives of the Afghan people and their social, economic and political structures.
Instead, the 2014 presidential elections in Afghanistan marked one of the world’s most controversial and fraudulent polls and pushed the newly established democracy in the post-Taliban era to the verge of political deadlock. At the same time, the elections provided a platform for the Afghan people with any political affiliation to use their democratic rights and elect their favorite candidate through the ballots and, in that way, to take charge of the country at a turbulent time where hostile neighbors and terrorist organizations were trying to turn the country into a battleground.
Despite months of political crisis, the elections were finally completed and a national unity government was formed under President Ashraf Ghani and his CEO Abdullah Abdullah. This was at a time that corruption was crippling the foundations of Afghanistan’s economy and financial institutions.
After assuming office as president, Ghani and his CEO pledged to deliver on their campaign promises to the Afghan people. Among them, the war on corruption was one of the core components of their anti-corruption policy. It was a policy on which the two officials promised to work together. Although government leaders inherited a corrupt system, many Afghans hoped that the new government would introduce serious measures to fix issues that emerged during former president Hamid Karzai’s era. This included the issue of corruption which had tarnished the image of Afghanistan in the international sphere.
Corruption during Hamid Karzai’s Administration
Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai ruled over the country for almost thirteen years in the post-Taliban democracy. As a popular leader Karzai had the support of the majority of Afghans all over the country. Because many Afghans strongly supporting Karzai’s soft politics, they believed that he was the man who would succeed in bringing about a politically and ethnically divided and conservative Afghan society under a single roof and around a unified political system. A society where its citizens had different political ideas and affiliations in a multi-ethnic country like Afghanistan.
Despite Karzai’s miracles on the political front, his administration was constantly attracting criticism from members of the Afghan public and the international community over the presence of large-scale corruption, poor governance, mismanagement of the national wealth and the embezzlement of millions of dollars of financial of assistance raised by the international community to rebuild the country. Karzai never bothered to take corruption seriously, despite mounting pressure from his foreign partners and the Afghan public.
It was a surprise when Karzai, during a public gathering, called on Afghans to build high-rise buildings and to stop transferring their money to Dubai. He ignored the fact that many of the high-rise buildings built during the past fifteen years were constructed with the money of a nation whose children had no shoes and bags to go to school and to learn while thousands of others remained subjected to heavy work in major Afghan cities, trying to earn some money for food.
In his inauguration speech, Karzai’s successor Ashraf Ghani tried to draw his own blueprint of fighting corruption. He tried to portray himself as a man who would not tolerate corruption in government institutions. Ghani’s political doctrine on corruption was initially met with hope and joy when he swiftly ordered the reopening of Kabul Bank corruption case that also involved former president Hamid Karzai’s brother Mahmoud Karzai. Ghani had promised to prosecute corrupt people regardless of their political position and social influence.
Ghani and his team also pledged to improve the living standards of Afghans by reducing social gaps, helping the common Afghan to easily afford bread and to feed his family and children and rather to think about school rather than where to find the next day’s food.
But Ghani’s anti-graft policy gradually changed into one of the great wonders of how he convinced the Afghan public and foreign donors that his administration was waging serious war against corruption while graft was still suffocating a nation in one of the most impoverished countries in the world – a nation who had paid $4 billion USD in bribes to have their needs processed in government offices.
With the passage of time, Ghani’s anti-graft strategy started losing its promise and for millions of Afghans, it was clear nothing would change on the ground to eliminate corruption in government institutions because action has not been taken to fight the menace. Later, many Afghans became very antagonistic about Ghani’s promises of waging war against corruption in Afghanistan. It remains a horrific trend which has tarnished the image of our civilized nation in the global arena and is harming our economic infrastructure and social values.
Today, if we ask the people for their views about government’s anti-graft policy, the majority of Afghans believe that the government’s policy has not changed anything on the ground. Corruption is still causing a loss of billions of dollars in our fragile economy. No top-officials or corrupt persons have been prosecuted over their involvement in defrauding Afghanistan.
The fact is, there is no war against corruption in Afghanistan. The so-called anti-graft war is one lie. It is fraud, a shame and a farce. It might not be an exaggeration to say that government’s anti-graft war was a carefully planned and well-executed drama only aimed at deceiving the Afghan public and the international community.
It was the international community during the Chicago and Tokyo conferences which told Afghanistan it will no longer be given a blank check unless it brings systematic reforms to the country’s financial system, promotes good governance, eliminates corruption and improves accountability and transparency in the country.
The government’s anti-graft policy is also a move to divert public opinion and mislead the world community from the major problems facing people in Afghanistan. This includes deteriorating security, economic instability, foreign policy issues, violation of the law, the uncertain fate of the peace process and especially the poor performance of the present government which is entangled in internal disputes over power-sharing issues.
Millions of Afghans, in the initial days of Ghani’s presidency, thought Ghani was the right man who would lead a serious anti-graft campaign and recuperate billions of dollars of money stolen from our poverty-hit people by those who were serving in Karzai’s administration. Instead, Karzai-era thieves continue to hold their reign on the government institutions and no action has been taken by the current government to bring them to justice.
As such countless Afghans, today, do not have faith in the war on corruption in Afghanistan and many believe that Ghani is a dishonest man who is incapable of honoring his pre- and post-campaign promises on eradicating corruption.
As mentioned before, as part of his anti-corruption initiatives, Ghani ordered the reopening of the Kabul Bank corruption case in a bid to recuperate more than $900 million USD stolen from the Afghan people. But the move instead sparked public anger when former CEO of the bank, Khalilullah Ferozi, a key suspect in the case, appeared at a joint press conference with one of Ghani’s cabinet ministers to sign a contract for the establishment of a smart township in Kabul. The deal was later canceled following public outrage.
The fate of the Kabul Bank corruption case remains uncertain. Some people argue that Kabul Bank corruption case was politically exploited. Because of Ghani’s order to launch a new probe into the case, doubts arose even with certain individuals inside Ghani’s administration, including Abdullah Abdullah, who said at the time that the Kabul Bank issue must not be politically exploited.
Ghani Renews Anti-Corruption Policy at Brussels Summit
In July, Ghani, in a presidential decree, ordered the establishment of an independent Anti-corruption and Criminal Justice Center (ACJC). It was aimed at tackling high-level corruption in Afghanistan. The formation of the center followed an international anti-corruption conference in May 2016, where Ghani described corruption in Afghanistan as a national shame and promised to end the impunity of those involved.
On 5 October 2016, the European Union (EU) and the Afghan government co-hosted the Brussels international conference on Afghanistan.
The conference brought together 75 countries and 26 international organizations and agencies. Participants endorsed the ambitious reform agenda presented by the Afghan government. They undertook to ensure continued international political and financial support for Afghanistan over the next four years. The total sum committed by the international community was $15 billion USD. At the summit, the donors asked Afghanistan to take bold action against corruption.
So far, the ACJC has not been able to take robust measures against high profile corruption cases and no top government officials have been prosecuted except some low-level cases which will never satisfy a nation repressed by corruption and corrupt institutions. There are so many officials who still have not declared their assets and they continue plundering Afghanistan's coffers.
Afghanistan Ranked the 2nd Most Corrupt Country In The World
On January 2016, Transparency International, in its annual report, said Afghanistan, Somalia and North Korea were the most corrupt countries among 176 nations in the world.
The issues of ghost teachers, ghost schools, and ghost soldiers have always surfaced in domestic and international media. On December 18 last year, the then minister of education, Assadullah Hanif Balkhi, reported that a little over six million pupils were enrolled at schools, reversing the figure of nine million as stated by the previous government.
On January 19, 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. military had wiped more than 30,000 names of suspected ghost Afghan soldiers from its payroll, as part of a widening corruption crackdown that a top American general estimates will save the U.S. millions of dollars each month.
In March 2017, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan’s Reconstruction, John F. Sopko, at an event at Duke University in the United States, made shocking remarks about corruption among Afghan forces. He said the combination of corruption and poor leadership in the security forces in Afghanistan is the root cause for their ‘ineffectiveness’.
In June, NATO military officials labeled corruption as a major challenge in the Ministry of Interior.
Lieutenant General Jürgen Weigt, Chief of Staff of the Resolute Support mission, said the Afghan people and the international community expected the Interior Ministry to ensure security and obtain people’s trust.
He said more than 40 contracts of the ministry have remained pending.
The international community also has obligations in the campaign against corruption in Afghanistan. The world must hold the Afghan government to account by taking serious action when needed. Turning a blind eye toward corruption in Afghanistan will lead to the waste of funds provided to Afghanistan by foreign donors. For example, the world must not give immunity to corrupt elements like the former governor of Da Afghanistan Bank who, after allegedly stealing millions of dollars, fled to the United States.
This indicates that the donors are also neglecting the war on corruption.
- Syed Zabiullah Langari is an editorial staff member at TOLOnews.