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NATO Predicts Decades-Long Battle Against Corruption in Afghanistan

NATO and U.S. officials are pushing hard to reverse a culture of deeply embedded corruption that permeates all aspects of Afghan society, considering it key to establishing the rule of law in Afghanistan. But alliance and U.S. officials are well aware that rooting out graft will be a complicated and long-term process despite spending tens of billions of dollars to stabilize the country.

After decades of war, Afghan analyst Kate Clark says, very simply, corruption is a way of life in Afghanistan that starts at the very top.

"In what other country would you have the defense minister's son having the main contract for one of the main military bases?" she asked. "In your country and my country that would be illegal, it would not happen, it would be an ethical issue, so why does it happen in Afghanistan?"

Clark compares the Afghan situation to a mafia economy.

"The police and the interior ministry are integral parts of that and, for example, you still can buy posts, so if you want to be in charge of the border, you want to be in charge of the border on a prime opium smuggling route, that costs money," said Clark. "And you have to recoup your money and that means making money out of smuggling opium and it's clear that still goes on."

Italian Carabinieri officer Brigadier General Carmelo Burgio fought Italy's mafia for years. He is in Afghanistan training the police, and says ridding the country of graft will take years.

"If we want to fight corruption, we have to use the same methods we are using in Italy" said Burgio. "So we have to push for generation. You want to fight the corruption, you have to change the mentality of this population. Changing the mentality means pushing for 50, 60, 70 years in the same direction in the same motivation."

All aspects of society have to be addressed, adds Burgio.

"You want to fight corruption in this area we have to change the approach. We need a global approach, a social approach. Every actor in society should be involved in the process," said Burgio, "And when I talk about every actor, I said about religion, family, the politicians... the school, all the actors, not only the judges, the prosecutors, and the police."

Analyst Clark points out that one obstacle is that NATO forces tend to deal with local power brokers.

"You have Afghans on the ground, who see that the foreign military... they thought they were coming in to protect them, they thought the foreigners were coming in to protect Afghan civilians, but actually, they give political support and often big contracts multi-million dollar contracts to the biggest commanders in the area, many of whom have past allegations of serious war crimes or human rights abuses, " said Clark.

Winning the confidence of the Afghan people is at the core of NATO's current strategy for Afghanistan. NATO officials say fighting corruption, or appearing to be doing something about it is part of that strategy, but admit it is a complex task that will stretch over the years to come.