Wikileaks, The Deluge: Part I

Edward Kenney
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

There has been a raft of articles over the last few days on corruption in Afghanistan, the result of a series of secretly leaked diplomatic cables posted by wikileaks.  The cables describe in detail the challenges facing U.S. diplomats as they try to find honest partners in the Afghan government.  The New York Times reports, U.S. aid money seems to be directly contributing to the problem:

One Afghan official helpfully explained to diplomats the “four stages” at which his colleagues skimmed money from American development projects: “When contractors bid on a project, at application for building permits, during construction, and at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.”

The Afghanistan Study Group has long argued that working with “local leaders” to re-establish governance, a hallmark of the Counter Insurgency Strategy, becomes toublesome when the local leaders are so corrupt that their actions fuel the insurgency.

The other pernicious effect of U.S. money—it makes reconciliation more difficult.    The International Crisis Group claims that as long as the Taliban are receiving aid there will be “no incentive to negotiate”.  However, incentives are far more likely to affect the local leaders the U.S. is backing than the Taliban.  A World Bank study notes, failed peace plans are

“Far more likely in cases where the organization is held together by profit-motives or force.  This situation may confront the international community in Afghanistan, where local warlords cobbled together to defeat the Taliban, may attempt to reinforce their political and economic power and may resist plans for their incorporation and demobilization.”

The good news is that the U.S. can bring pro-Karzai warlords to the negotiating table by decreasing the flow of money and resources to them.  Stephen Biddle from the Council on Foreign Relations has long advocated “contract reform” along similar lines.  This change would be a substantial departure from the current Counter Insurgency Strategy, which relies on providing resources to local leaders in order to build capacity.

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