WASHINGTON: Corruption, not the Taliban, is the existential threat to Afghanistan which the next president must tackle with urgency, the former commander of Nato troops in the country said on Wednesday.

John Allen, who led the war effort for a year and half until stepping down in 2013, said Afghanistan’s economic prospects will be bleak unless the next leader can root out corruption, including ending the influence of drug lords over government functions.

“The great challenge to Afghanistan’s future isn’t the Taliban or the Pakistani safe havens (for militants) or even an incipiently hostile Pakistan, “the retired four-star general told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“The existential threat to the long-term viability of modern Afghanistan is corruption.” “For too long, we’ve focused our attention on the Taliban as the existential threat to Afghanistan. They are an annoyance compared to the scope and magnitude of corruption,” he said.

Afghanistan is planning a run-off election to determine President Hamid Karzai’s successor, who will lead Afghanistan as the United States withdraws the bulk of its combat forces this year.

Allen said both candidates, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, were “extraordinarily well-educated” and were committed to both rooting out corruption.

Both candidates have pledged to explore peace talks with the Taliban and to sign a deal with Washington that could allow 10,000 US troops to stay on after this year on a training and counter-terrorism mission.

Before stepping down, Allen called for a 13,600-troop US presence to remain Afghanistan post-2014. He stood by his position, saying US assistance would help Afghans defeat Taliban insurgents.

But he said that the “battle for Afghanistan will be won by righteous law enforcement, a functioning judiciary and an unambiguous commitment to the rule of law.

“He acknowledged partial US responsibility for the corruption as Washington has pumped more than $100 billion into the impoverished country since overthrowing the Taliban regime in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Watchdog Transparency International ranked Afghanistan at the bottom of its last annual list on perceptions of corruption, alongside North Korea and Somalia.—AFP

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