Networks of corruption in the Afghan administration are like the tentacles of a hungry octopus entangling its prey. It is difficult to make them let go. But is the Afghan government really trying? Despite the uncovering of various graft scandals in recent years, it has failed to bring their investigations to a satisfactory end. Meanwhile it has strengthened impunity, weakened the rule of law and fuelled further corruption, eroding public trust. AAN’s Gran Hewad has been reviewing this worrying trend and its implications for Afghanistan (with input by Thomas Ruttig).
The Karzai government is under huge pressure from international partners to show that it is stepping up its struggle against corruption before the upcoming Chicago and Tokyo conferences on Afghanistan. It has opened a number of new high-profile cases, yet no real progress has been made into old ones.
A week ago, Aziz Ludin, the Director of the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOOAC), confirmed in Afghan media that an investigation is continuing into claims of corruption with respect to $42 million donated by NATO to the Health Department of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) as part of the process for acquiring equipment for the Afghan army. The investigation is being carried out by a team of representatives from the HOOAC, MoD, Ministry of Finance and the Attorney General’s (AG) office and, according to Ludin, their findings are to be announced within 20 days, ie in mid-April. Meanwhile, current Interior Minister Bismillah Muhammadi has been associated with the case. Well-known Afghan journalist Razaq Mamun has pinpointed him as the culprit in this case in a recent blog on his website. Claiming that he has received information from unnamed NATO sources, Mamun alleges that $28 million of the said $42 million had been deposited in Gen. Bismillah’s account, who was the Chief of Army Staff when the funds were donated, as a kick-back. Meanwhile, the issue also has been picked up by the New York Times and raised some interest in the US.
On 14 March 2012, Attorney General Mohammad Eshaq Aloko told a Senate committee that his authority had made several arrests on other corruption cases. Hedayatullah Dayani, the former chairman of Pashtany Tejarati [Commercial] Bank (and a former personal advisor of former king Zaher Shah) had been arrested, accused of corruption in the bank. Dayani was sacked from the bank in late 2009 on charges of financial corruption. The Attorney General declared that 17 staff members of Pashtany Tejarati Bank were involved in the bank corruption case, and that 13 of them had been arrested, with Dayani the most high profile.
Aloko also reported the arrest of Jamal Qadir, chairman of the Nangarhar Provincial Council, and son of the former Nangarhar strongman Haji Qadir (who was assassinated in Kabul shortly after having been appointed Minister of Public Works in 2002). The Anti-Corruption attorney accompanying Aloko at the committee meeting accused Jamal Qadir of the misuse of public authority, kidnapping, stealing and forcing entrance into private commercial properties.
But instead of a judicial investigation, a team of MPs was sent to visit Nangarhar on 17 March 2012 to check the credibility of the accusations made by the Attorney General. As Jamal Qadir’s brother Zahir Qadir is Deputy Speaker of the lower house of parliament, this could present a conflict of interests. Since returning from Nangarhar the MP delegation has as yet reported no findings.
In a third case, the Kabul-based Pajhwok News Agency has recently reported an allegation against a minister, so far unnamed, and about a request to establish a special court to investigate him, that has been sent to President Karzai for approval.
President Karzai’s approach to fighting corruption has different elements. At international conferences and public events in the country he shows himself fully committed to fighting corruption. ‘We will work to fight corruptions more effectively and further reform government institutions to render them more efficient, transparent, and accountable. We will enforce the rule of law and pursue further judicial reforms’, he said at the Bonn conference in late 2011.
But he also likes to turn the issue against the donors – not without reason. A few days after Bonn, on 11 December 2011 in Kabul at an international Anti-Corruption Day conference, he compared corrupt officials to insurgents and said that they too were using safe havens outside the country, but added that ‘Afghanistan’s international friends’ were not cooperating to hold them to account. He said the US, for example, should extradite the former governor of the Central Bank Abdul Qadir Fitrat to Afghanistan for prosecution over a banking scandal involving irregularities about nearly $1billion. Fitrat fled to the US when the scandal became public -he was accused of illegally appointing Khalil Ferozi as CEO of Kabul Bank when he did not have the qualifications required by law. ‘Whoever is powerful has impunity; impunity has become part of the Afghan culture’, Karzai concluded in his speech.
While the President may be upset with his foreign backers for not cooperating, they seem to be upset with him for the same reason. Reacting to his charge about Fitrat, US ambassador Ryan Crocker said at a press conference in Kabul on the following day that ‘the Afghan government has made no official request yet about returning Fitrat to Afghanistan’. Basically, accusing internationals of not cooperating is a good smoke-screen to justify sky-rocketing corruption in the administration and not taking efficient steps to curb it.
In his anti-corruption speech last year, the President even seemed to excuse corrupt practices, provided the money illegally gained is re-invested in Afghanistan. He called on people to ‘gain capital from any source, anywhere, as much as you can. Build your buildings here, [but] do not transfer the money to Dubai or to other countries, because this is the way that the world has developed.’ It is clear what lesson corrupt officials could draw from this attitude that amounts to a blank cheque – or to an Afghan version of Deng Xiaoping’s famous ‘Get rich’ slogan.
Older cases show that, to date, the government’s efforts at curbing corruption have not convinced Afghan or international observers. Senior officials, after being convicted for corruption, have almost invariably been acquitted. Political clientele networks and direct interference by the President have considerably damaged the judiciary’s independence and undermined the rule of law in Afghanistan. One of the most famous examples is the case of the mayor of Kabul, Muhammad Sahebi, whose acquittal was arranged by the President himself. In December 2009, Sahebi had been sentenced to four years in prison for bribery and neglect in duty, but President Karzai acquitted him publicly only a few days later, during the same anti-corruption conference mentioned above. In his speech, he maintained that the mayor was a clean man. As reported in one of our previous blogs, Karzai said about him that ‘[h]e may have some faults, but that was no reason to damage his reputation so badly with a stain that could not be removed in a lifetime.’
In another case, AAN has learned that Takhar’s Chief of Police, Khair Muhammad Timur, was sentenced to a ten-year prison term by the primary police court last month, in relation to a murder which took place in 2000. However, he is presently still in command of the provincial police.
And there still is, of course, the infamous Kabul Bank scandal. Although widespread investigations took place into it, and a great number of its and the Central Bank’s staff have been accused of involvement in it, no further action has taken place. (1)
Although the foreign donors’ promises for a future commitment to Afghanistan at the Bonn 2 conference were made on the condition of greater transparency and accountability, it has become clear that – besides the many promises and a few vague attempts to prosecute graft – the anti-corruption struggle has led nowhere yet. It seems that the government of Afghanistan is trying to excuse its own failures by arguing that the international community is not helpful either. As President Karzai put it at the above-mentioned conference: ‘We believe that the foreigners are using corruption as a [propaganda] tool to bring pressure on us, and they believe we are doing the same to them.’
However, there may still be enough time before the drawdown of foreign combat forces in 2014 to show to the world if not success, at least the genuine will to succeed in eradicating corruption. (Meanwhile, the donors also need to admit that they often fuel corruption with their practice how aid money is distributed and act upon it.) Only such a way of cooperation will secure Afghanistan the continued support of the international donors and, at the same time, lay the foundations for a sound and real growth of the country’s economy.
Photo: Gran Hewad
(1) As the latest development, the Office of the Spokesperson to the President of Afghanistan distributed the following press release on 3 April 2012:
Economic Meeting Assesses Kabul Bank Loan Recovery Progress
April 3, 2012
President Hamid Karzai chaired on Tuesday a meeting of senior government officials to discuss all matters pertaining to the Kabul Bank issue.
The meeting discussed in details the progress that has so far been made in recovering the loans that the Bank was yet to receive from its borrowers. After a thorough discussion, it was decided that a Special Prosecutors Office and a Special Tribunal be set at earliest to conduct investigation and bring to table those who have illegally taken loans from Kabul Bank and who are involved in the Banks financial crisis.
The Economic meeting also set a two-month deadline for the full repayment of the loans illegally received from the Bank.
The meeting was also attended by both the Vice-presidents, Ministers of Economy and Transport, the Attorney General, Governor of Afghanistan Central Bank, Presidential Senior Economic Advisor, DG NDS, Chief of the High Office of Oversight, deputy Minister of Finance and CEO of the Ariana Airlines.
— News Unit,
Office of the Spokesperson to the President of Afghanistan,
Presidential Palace (Arg), Kabul
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020