The Af-cash affair

Reports of bags of cash being handed over to the office of President Karzai – tens of millions of dollars in the last ten years – come as no surprise. The money comes from Afghanistan’s fair-weather friend, the CIA, who handed over the money – sometimes in plastic bags or packed into briefcases – to buy favour with the Karzai regime. There is no accountability or transparency about the arrangement; the money, according to President Karzai, is used for ‘good causes’ like helping the wounded and the sick and funding ‘operational objectives’ – whatever they might be. The president thanked the CIA for its generosity, commenting that‘the assistance was very productive’ but there can be little doubt that nobody would have known anything about ‘ghost money’ changing hands were it not for an article in The New York Times that lifted the lid on yet another murky aspect of the ongoing disaster that is the US intervention in Afghanistan. According to the NYT report, the money had gone into paying off warlords and politicians and quite possibly the Taliban as well, who must be delighted at such largesse by their erstwhile foe. In a country riddled with corruption in every sphere of life it is entirely plausible that some – probably most – of these tens-of-millions of dollars were if not directly used for corrupt purposes then at least fuelled pre-existing corruption. An unnamed American official is quoted as saying that ‘The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States’. It is not difficult to see how he arrived at that conclusion. The Afghan economy is virtually non-existent and tax revenues miniscule. The salaries of the army, the police and the civil service are supported by donor funding, and the entire country is run as a vast NGO with foreign funds propping it up. Corruption was endemic before the arrival of the Americans and the ouster of the Taliban, but it has been institutionalised on a scale far beyond what went before, and the narco-economy is probably the only viable and productive sector. President Karzai says that he regards the sums involved as‘small’, which in the context of the billions of dollars poured into the country to little positive effect, is true.Small perhaps, but indicative of the malaise that can only get worse as the 2014 withdrawal deadline approaches. Who will fund Afghanistan when CIA shopping bags stop popping up in presidential offices? Will it be a dog-eat-dog situation? It is going to be a very long time before Afghanistan becomes a good-news story.

Courtesy: The News