Afghan, ISAF Officials Detail Corruption Fight

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2012 — The bat­tle against cor­rup­tion in Afghanistan is as cru­cial to the nation’s future as the fight against the insur­gency, two lead­ers at the fore­front of that strug­gle said today.

Army Brig. Gen. H.R. McMas­ter com­mands the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force’s counter-cor­rup­tion task force. He and Afghan for­eign min­istry spokesman Janan Mosazai briefed reporters at the Pen­ta­gon from Afghanistan’s cap­i­tal of Kab­ul on the polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, judi­cial and law enforce­ment effort to curb cor­rup­tion in that nation’s young gov­ern­ment.

Mosazai, a past can­di­date for the Afghan par­lia­ment, said his country’s cur­rent strug­gle is best under­stood in the con­text of its recent his­to­ry. From 2001 to now, Afghanistan has expe­ri­enced an “earth-and-sky” change, he said.

“Afghanistan was a severe­ly iso­lat­ed coun­try, where the peo­ple lived at the mer­cy of a bru­tal regime sup­port­ed by inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ists,” Mosazai said. In con­trast, he added, the nation now has a demo­c­ra­t­ic con­sti­tu­tion, a robust free press, more than 11,000 miles of paved roads and 8 mil­lion chil­dren in school, more than a third of whom are girls. In 2001, few­er than a mil­lion Afghan chil­dren went to school, and all of them were boys.

“We have seen an expo­nen­tial expan­sion of … health ser­vices,” Mosazai said. “Today about 80 per­cent of the Afghan pop­u­la­tion up and down the coun­try has access to at least basic health ser­vices.”

In 2001, an Afghan cit­i­zen would have trav­eled up to two days to make a phone call to a rel­a­tive or a friend out­side Afghanistan, while today more than 12 mil­lion Afghans own cell phones, and at least 1 mil­lion are online, the spokesman not­ed.

Afghanistan has emerged from “the dark iso­la­tion that it lived under back in the 1990s dur­ing the civ­il war and the Tal­iban regime,” he said.

“Today we have close to 70 mis­sions in the four cor­ners of the world — embassies, con­sulates and per­ma­nent mis­sions — main­tain­ing and advanc­ing our rela­tions with the region and with the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty,” Mosazai not­ed.

Afghanistan’s peo­ple are deter­mined to pre­serve their nation’s gains, and they seek region­al and inter­na­tion­al part­ner­ship and assis­tance in their quest for peace and long-term sta­bil­i­ty and secu­ri­ty, he said.

In Decem­ber, the Afghanistan inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence in Bonn, Ger­many, drew rep­re­sen­ta­tives from more than 100 nations and orga­ni­za­tions. That con­fer­ence, Mosazai said, result­ed in “a strong polit­i­cal com­mit­ment to sup­port and [assist] Afghanistan” through the 2014 secu­ri­ty tran­si­tion peri­od, “and then for the decade … of trans­for­ma­tion in Afghanistan, all the way to 2025.”

Dur­ing four con­fer­ences sched­uled for the next six months, he added, Afghan lead­ers hope to resolve region­al issues and flesh out inter­na­tion­al com­mit­ments “so that we get enough time in Afghanistan to devel­op our domes­tic rev­enue sources — our nat­ur­al wealth, our mines, our agri­cul­ture indus­try — and revive Afghanistan’s place, Afghanistan’s role as the region’s land bridge and hub.”

Afghan lead­ers seek “a rec­i­p­ro­cal com­mit­ment between Afghanistan and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, where we on the Afghan side con­tin­ue to imple­ment the reforms that we know are nec­es­sary,” Mosazai said.

McMas­ter said bat­tling cor­rup­tion is “a crit­i­cal effort in this real­ly crit­i­cal phase in Afghanistan’s long strug­gle for peace and jus­tice.”

McMas­ter not­ed ISAF forces and their civil­ian coun­ter­parts have tak­en steps – reform­ing con­tract process­es, screen­ing peo­ple and com­pa­nies, and over­see­ing aid dona­tions – to ensure the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty isn’t cre­at­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for cor­rup­tion.

“We have [in the past] often deliv­ered much-need­ed inter­na­tion­al assis­tance to Afghan insti­tu­tions and to Afghanistan broad­ly with­out ade­quate over­sight,” he added.

ISAF sup­ports the Afghan-led effort to build a polit­i­cal sys­tem resis­tant to cor­rup­tion, the gen­er­al said.

The Afghan-ISAF goal, he added, is to “strength­en and hard­en” key Afghan insti­tu­tions, espe­cial­ly those involv­ing secu­ri­ty, law enforce­ment and the courts, and so reduce the threat of cor­rup­tion to the state.

McMaster’s task force also is work­ing with Afghan law enforce­ment and intel­li­gence orga­ni­za­tions “to under­stand this over­lap­ping prob­lem of insur­gency and ter­ror­ism, cor­rup­tion, orga­nized crime and the nar­cotics trade,” he said.

“We should acknowl­edge up front the biggest crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tion in Afghanistan is the Tal­iban,” he said. “Not just because they com­mit mass mur­der of inno­cent peo­ple as their prin­ci­pal tac­tic in the war, but also because they fund their efforts in large mea­sure through a broad range of illic­it activ­i­ty, espe­cial­ly the nar­cotics trade.”

Peo­ple, mon­ey, nar­cotics and drug pre­cur­sor chem­i­cals flow through the net­works that link the Tal­iban and crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions to the broad prob­lem of transna­tion­al orga­nized crime, McMas­ter said.

That activ­i­ty vic­tim­izes the Afghan peo­ple and weak­ens gov­ern­ment insti­tu­tions “through the cor­ro­sive effects of the mon­ey that comes in and those who are put into posi­tions to facil­i­tate, pro­tect and prof­it from the nar­cotics trade,” the gen­er­al said.

The U.S. depart­ments of State and Jus­tice work with the task force to under­stand the over­all prob­lem and sup­port Afghan-led law enforce­ment and judi­cial action against cor­rup­tion, he added.

Mem­bers of the Afghan gov­ern­ment must gen­er­ate the polit­i­cal will to take on the prob­lems, McMas­ter said.

“What Afghan lead­ers often see is the pow­er of these crim­i­nal net­works,” he said. “They often see polit­i­cal risks asso­ci­at­ed with tak­ing them on. But I think now, because we’ve worked on this prob­lem togeth­er, we can also see the long-term cost of inac­tion against these net­works.”

McMas­ter not­ed Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai said last week the nation must “lift impuni­ty and pro­tec­tion” from key nar­cotics traf­fick­ers.

“And you’ve had the arrest of four key traf­fick­ers just in the last week, which is a very encour­ag­ing sign,” the gen­er­al said.

McMas­ter said anti-cor­rup­tion efforts in Afghanistan are achiev­ing “quan­tifi­able progress.”

“How that progress relates to the over­all scale of the prob­lem, … I can’t tell you yet,” he said. “We’re work­ing on that as well.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)