Afghanistan — Corruption Battle Continues in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2010 — It can’t be shot, it can’t be destroyed with a mor­tar or rock­et-pro­pelled grenade, and most of the time it can’t even be seen. But cor­rup­tion with­in police and mil­i­tary units is one of the biggest threats fac­ing the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces.

Dur­ing an Aug. 3 “DoD Live” blog­gers round­table, Coast Guard Capt. Steven Ander­sen, staff judge advo­cate for the anti-cor­rup­tion office of NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan and Com­bined Secu­ri­ty Tran­si­tion Com­mand Afghanistan, dis­cussed the com­mands’ efforts in work­ing with the Afghan gov­ern­ment to build sys­tems, process­es and insti­tu­tions that lim­it future oppor­tu­ni­ties for cor­rup­tion.

But right now, Ander­sen said, they’re still try­ing to iden­ti­fy prob­lem areas in Afghan forces. It’s dif­fi­cult, he explained, because cor­rup­tion can mean so many dif­fer­ent things – it could be a com­pa­ny com­man­der not pay­ing his troops their full salary or it could be a fake road­block used to shake down trav­el­ers for mon­ey or goods.

“There’s no one mag­ic result that’s going to solve the whole cor­rup­tion prob­lem,” he said.

Ander­sen said he’s been impressed with the will­ing­ness of some Afghan secu­ri­ty forces mem­bers to stand up in the face of cor­rup­tion, risk­ing pos­si­ble ret­ri­bu­tion by their cor­rupt coun­ter­parts, or worse, by insur­gent groups such as the Tal­iban.

“There are cer­tain con­cerns when any indi­vid­ual comes for­ward in any soci­ety to bring for­ward infor­ma­tion about cor­rup­tion or a crime being com­mit­ted,” he said. “Although those con­cerns exist, there are also some very coura­geous and some­what inspir­ing Afghans in the police and the army who are actu­al­ly stand­ing up and mak­ing a stand against cor­rup­tion and things that are going on in the min­istry they know aren’t right.”

The best thing that can hap­pen for Afghanistan is a cul­tur­al shift, Ander­son said, and he added that he doesn’t think it’s a pipe dream or some­thing on the dis­tant hori­zon. It’s not going to hap­pen overnight, he acknowl­edged, but he said the shift already is in progress.

“I do not sub­scribe to the the­o­ry that Afghans accept cor­rup­tion,” Ander­son said. “I believe they tol­er­ate it. I believe they tol­er­ate it because, in some cas­es, there’s no oth­er way to get some things done. But I don’t believe they accept it.”

Ander­sen said he has spo­ken to many Afghans, and his assess­ment is that cor­rup­tion is tol­er­at­ed because of the unsta­ble envi­ron­ment the country’s been in for the past few decades. It’s not an issue of chang­ing moral­i­ty or a sense of right and wrong in the cul­ture, he said. The goal is to make Afghans aware that they don’t need to tol­er­ate bad behav­ior any more.

“I’ve talked to sev­er­al indi­vid­u­als who have [had] reli­gious edu­ca­tion here, and they clear­ly say that their morals are not that dif­fer­ent,” he said. “You know, lying here is lying — it’s like lying in our coun­try. Cheat­ing here is like cheat­ing, lying is like lying. There are some cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences, I think maybe, when it comes to nepo­tism and help­ing peo­ple get jobs and things like that. [An inde­pen­dent sur­vey] asked peo­ple, you know, ‘Do you think this is wrong?’ and a major­i­ty of peo­ple say ‘Yes.’ ”

But sur­veys don’t always pro­vide an accu­rate mea­sure of cor­rup­tion, Ander­son not­ed. Many show skewed data, he explained, because they’re based on per­cep­tion and image, not nec­es­sar­i­ly first-hand expe­ri­ence.

“The police have a cor­rup­tion prob­lem, but some­times I think it gets a lit­tle bit overblown by the sur­veys that are always look­ing at per­cep­tions,” Ander­sen said. “If I have a neigh­bor who tells me that their broth­er-in-law was shak­en down by the police, then my per­cep­tion of the police is that they are cor­rupt, although I might not have expe­ri­enced it.” Lead­er­ship is chang­ing the way is the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are run. For exam­ple, the new inte­ri­or min­is­ter has been known to trav­el to remote police sta­tions and show up with no announce­ment or fan­fare, some­times in the mid­dle of the night, just to see how things are going, Ander­sen said. A “per­son­al asset inven­to­ry” now is being used to make sure com­man­ders aren’t request­ing mon­ey for eight police­men when they have only five in the unit.

Ander­sen said that kind of involve­ment from lead­er­ship will help immense­ly in weed­ing out the cor­rupt indi­vid­u­als who tar­nish the entire service’s rep­u­ta­tion.

“It’s not every police offi­cer. It’s not every army offi­cer — or every patrol­man, or every NCO, every gen­er­al. It’s not. And that is one of the chal­lenges,” he said.

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

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