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Armed Afghan policemen sit with confiscated poppy bulbs in Karezaq, Afghanistan Armed Afghan policemen sit with confiscated poppy bulbs during a poppy eradication sweep of a farmer’s field in the village of Karezaq, Afghanistan, April 11, 2004 (AP photo by David Guttenfelder).

All Corruption Is Political: Learning From Failure in Afghanistan and Myanmar

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Corruption and criminality have long bedeviled both conflict and post-conflict settings. As illicit economies that predated or emerged from the years of conflict persist and grow, they often undermine apparent battlefield victories and aspirational regime transitions to the point of eviscerating stability and liberalization. From Somalia to Afghanistan to Myanmar to South Sudan to Haiti, the stabilization efforts of international and local actors have often been held hostage to the unsavory behavior of elites, both old and new.

One reason why anti-corruption and anti-crime efforts have struggled is that they have been understood as technical, institution-building efforts rather than as political undertakings that profoundly affect local balances of power and the fundamental organization of society. These efforts often seek to do too much at once, ignoring the effects that reforms will have on newly empowered and long-entrenched elites, even as they give priority to other policy ambitions, such as counterterrorism. ...

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