THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Corruption in Afghanistan and at Home
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Nov. 30-Dec. 5, 2009
The sordid election saga in Afghanistan ended this past week with the inauguration of Hamid Karzai before a small audience of about 800 people. This was probably not the triumphal moment President Karzai had hoped for. Surrounded by charges of corruption, chided by U.S. and international leaders, Karzai began a second 5-year term.
The ending of the election cycle brings no resolution to the problems for the Afghan people or for the U.S. and its continuing military presence.
The day before the inauguration Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held an extended meeting with President Karzai, warning him that he had to deliver "measurable results" on efforts to improve government and bring down corruption. Secretary Clinton is one of a dwindling number of U.S. leaders able to talk with Karzai. Vice President Biden is reported to have stalked out of Karzai's office in exasperation. The special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, is barely tolerated, and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry has to work hard to maintain a relationship with Karzai. Clinton echoed President Obama's warning that the U.S. commitment is not indefinite. Future civilian aid, she stressed, would depend on how the new government performed.
No sooner had President Karzai started his new term than this message was reiterated by the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Speaking at a news conference in Nova Scotia, Gates warned that the US would start withholding dollars if things don't change. "The reality is that the international presence in Afghanistan has provided a significant influx of assistance dollars and contacts and so on. So it seems to me that the place for us to start is to deal with corruption that may be associated with contracts we're letting, or work that we are having done and development projects that we are undertaking in partnership with others, including with Afghans."
Gates took care to say that he expects measurable goals but not miracles. "My view is that the improvements in governance in Afghanistan will be evolutionary." He added, "We are not going to go from a situation where we have a fair amount of dissatisfaction now to believing that these problems have been solved in two weeks or a month or on the basis of a single speech."
Karzai's inaugural speech seemed aimed at his critics. He pledged to fight corruption. He received applause on only three occasions: the pledge to create a transparent and accountable government, the promise to fight corruption, and when he thanked the U.S. and other allies for their support.
But the U.S. and every one else have heard this all before. Karzai made similar pledges in September, with little to show for them.
A young Afghan lawyer was quoted in the New York Times. "He can't get rid of corruption because he came to his position by fraud. People are really tired of war, but they are really tired of government too."
Meanwhile, two parts of the speech have received little comment from U.S. officials. President Karzai stressed the need to eliminate civilian causalities in this escalating war. Even as the Obama administration presses for the use of more drones, Karzai made clear that the continued deaths of civilians by U.S. and allied military forces must stop.
Further, he made clear his intention to reach out and begin negotiations with the Taliban, an action widely supported among Afghans.
Neither position is in line with U.S. desires. But the main corruption we have to worry about and which it is within our power to eliminate is the corruption of ourselves as we continue to impose military solutions on political problems.