Afghan corruption

Published May 20, 2024

AMONGST the reasons that the Afghan Taliban marched into Kabul in August 2021 without any resistance to speak of from the Western-backed government was the fact that the regime — and those before it — was notoriously corrupt and inept. While the elite made fortunes thanks to billions of dollars of Western aid pouring into the country, most ordinary Afghans lived miserable lives where poverty and violence were the only constants. And as the Dubai Unlocked investigation has revealed, along with other international high-rollers, a number of well-connected Afghans that were part of the erstwhile power structure scooped up property worth millions of dollars in the emirate, while ordinary Afghans struggled to put food on the table. Amongst the characters that feature in the Dubai Unlocked leaks is a former speaker of the Afghan parliament and his son, who own property in the emirate worth over $15m. Both these individuals have been slapped with US sanctions for allegedly siphoning off funds meant for reconstruction, yet deny any wrongdoing. Another character is a warlord related to ex-Afghan president Hamid Karzai. He provided security to the Americans in Afghanistan and also owns pricey Dubai real estate, though a US Congressional report says he was using American dollars to pay off the Taliban.

The Dubai Unlocked data related to Afghanistan serves as another cautionary tale against the perils of Western nation-building projects. The fact is that a kleptocratic elite was promoted and funded by the Americans and their allies for two decades, many of whom stashed bags full of cash away in foreign havens as the Afghan people suffered. Iraq experienced a similar fate after the 2003 invasion. This does not mean that the Afghan Taliban are a better alternative; their hard-line administration is responsible for clamping down on civil rights, particularly anti-women measures. But instead of foreign ‘saviours’ bringing ‘democracy’ to nations, this process should be organic and owned and led by local people. When foreign forces with little knowledge of local conditions bring ‘democracy’ and ‘progress’ by force, the result will be little different to the Afghan tragedy. Today, as per UN figures, over half of Afghanistan’s people need humanitarian aid to survive. Meanwhile, many of those who were ruling over them for two decades continue to enjoy the fruits of their ill-gotten wealth, funded by Western states.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2024

Opinion

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