The people of Afghanistan have long endured the horrors of foreign invasions, dictatorial regimes, and endemic poverty. But a recent United Nations report claims the threat posed by these issues pales in comparison to the systematic corruption which has become commonplace in Afghanistan. If Canada and its international partners want to achieve their goal and help create a strong and democratic Afghanistan, they have to do as much to combat corruption as they do to combat other threats such as the Taliban and the opium trade.
The UN report claims that between the autumns of 2008 and 2009 Afghans paid more than $2.5 billion US in bribes. That number represents about a quarter of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, which is more than the Afghan opium trade takes in annually. The report went further, stating that 50 per cent of Afghans interviewed said they had been required to pay a bribe to a government official. The average bribe is about $160 US according to the report, a shockingly large amount in a country where the per capita income is only $425 US a year.
Canada has a particular interest in tackling the problem of corruption in Afghanistan since one of the main reasons the Canadian Forces and other foreign troops are in Afghanistan is to help establish democracy. The fact that government agents at all levels are taking bribes and getting rich at the expense of the Afghan citizens they are supposed to be serving is a spit in the face of the West’s efforts. If Canada and its international partners truly wish to see a more democratic Afghanistan, they must first do more to tackle the problem of corruption.
Another main goal of the Canadian and international presence in Afghanistan is that of establishing security. The rampant and systematic corruption which afflicts the people of Afghanistan is possibly more detrimental to the security situation in Afghanistan than any other factor. One of the main obstacles in the way of establishing security in Afghanistan has been winning over the Afghan population to the side of the government. It seems likely that many Afghans would prefer living under Taliban authoritarianism and theocracy than under the corruption and plunder which seem to characterize the current Afghan government. So long as the institutional corruption continues at such a high level, a large portion of the Afghan population will continue to withhold its support from the government, thus emboldening the Taliban, and perpetuating the violence and lack of security which has characterized Afghanistan for over 30 years.
The question then, is what Canada can do to help curb the problem of corruption. First of all, the Canadian government must exercise the full extent of its influence with the current Afghan government. It must impress upon the Karzai administration that corruption will no longer be tolerated. Canada and its international partners must follow up the recent UN report with further and more rigorous monitoring of corruption. Lastly, the Afghan government must be made to understand that there will be real, Western-imposed consequences if it continues to do so little to stop its economic victimization of its own people. Only in doing that can the international coalition of troops hope to achieve a level of democracy and security that would allow them to leave Afghanistan knowing that their mission was successful.