Confronting Hamid Karzai and Afghan Corruption

How did it get this bad and what can the U.S. do about it?

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The international mission in Afghanistan, for which President Obama is set to announce an increase of 30,000-plus American troops, faces one of its greatest challenges in the corruption of Afghan officials. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the rest of the Afghanistan government are widely seen in Washington less as allies than hurdles to a stable Afghanistan. How can the U.S. deal with the increasing problems of Karzai and corruption in Afghanistan?

  • No More 'Blank Check' ABC News's Jake Tapper reports that Obama will declare tonight, "The era of the blank check for President Karzai is over." Tapper writes, "Instead of US resources going to Karzai's national government, much of it will be targeted at local governments at the province and district level and at specific ministries, such as those devoted to Afghan security."
  • War Or Nation Building? The New Yorker's Hendrick Hertzberg asks, "Can Afghanistan's nominal government, with its President elected by fraud and its recent rating as the second most corrupt on earth, be finessed or somehow remade?" He writes, "What Obama seems to have discovered is that this is no longer the war that began eight years ago. That war was an act of retribution and prevention. But now who are we punishing? What are we preventing?"
  • Hard Line On Corruption The Boston Globe's Derrick Jackson insists nothing will work until we address corruption. "If reconstruction is going to take that long, and investment of both troops and aid that extensive, it should clearly be conditioned on whether Afghanistan shows signs of getting its house in order. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the United States will not fund projects where it is the only one writing the checks. But all that means little if Obama, the check-writer in chief, does not make a strong statement about Afghanistan cleaning up corruption."
  • Our Stalemate With Karzai The New Republic's Jean MacKenzie explores how Karzai got so corrupt and why we can't do anything about it.
The glaring defects in the Karzai administration were coming to light. Afghanistan may have been "The Good War," but it was not a very successful peace. Corruption, inefficiency and lack of capacity combined to torpedo reconstruction efforts, while an increasingly desperate population turned to the Taliban to settle their grievances. The judiciary, for example, was so inept that in 2007 more than half of all family disputes and property cases were being adjudicated outside of the state legal system, according to numerous reports. Tribal and Taliban courts were seen to be fairer and a lot more expeditious at getting petitioners some satisfaction. [...]
Afghan president understands only too well that his continued survival in office still depends, financially and militarily, on the West. "[Karzai] cannot maintain his government for more than a few days without American support," said Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former finance minister and failed presidential candidate. The United States cannot abandon Karzai, and he cannot afford to kick them out. The stalemate is thus likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.