I’ve long felt that the discussion of the Afghan government’s many shortcomings tends to exagerrate the importance of the corruption factor in driving the insurgency. To the extent that the government is corrupt, that’s more a problem for those funding it — namely, international donors.
The problem in Afghanistan is that the government is not just corruptbut also incompetent, leaving service vacuums in terms of security andlaw and order that are filled by the Taliban. But worse still, all thereporting suggests that government officials are also actively engagedin either targeting the population or else complicit with those thatdo.
I was actually planning to write about this subject using Saudi Arabia — where anyone doing business is apparently well-advised to keep suitcases of cash on hand — as an example. But this poll revealing that a whopping 75 percent of EU residents believe their governments, at all levels, are corrupt does the trick nicely, too. And although Bulgaria’s 97 percent skews the numbers a bit, consider that in Britain, the number of those concerned reached 74 percent following the recent MP scandals.
Corruption is rooted in human nature, and remains present in various forms even in societies that have actively and consciously engaged in generational efforts to design systems of government that limit it. It is not necessarily incompatible with good governance, no matter how counterintuitive that might seem. It actually becomes a problem inasmuch as it creates a system of patronage that tends to protect those guilty of more serious malfeasance in the face of reformers. But the distinction is an important one to remember, and probably why the U.S. has begun to walk back its rhetoric on that score in Kabul.