Defining Afghan Corruption

Julia Mahlejd makes some thought-provoking observations about the difference between Afghan and American perceptions and understanding of just what constitutes corruption. This adds some substance to my abstract reflections on the relationship between corruption and legitimacy, as did Kari’s smart post on the Asia Society event featuring Ashraf Ghani she attended two weeks ago.

My point wasn’t that corruption isn’t a problem in Afghanistan, nor that there is no connection between perceptions of corruption and perception of legitimacy. I just suspected that the Stateside policy discussion about corruption was lumping together a wide range of behaviors that in fact have varying impacts, and exagerrating their role in catalyzing support for an armed insurgency.

Mahlejd’s post suggests I wasn’t that far off the mark. But Ghani’s comments illustrate the very real financial costs of Afghan corruption. And I probably gave short shrift in my original post to the need for active popular support for the “legitimate” government in order to turn the tide in a counterinsurgency war. That clearly won’t be forthcoming if the population sees little difference between the government and the insurgents.