In Afghanistan the U.S. is making yet another attempt to curb corruption in the Afghan national police. The most effective Taliban weapon against the police is money. Bribes are not the only problem the police have. There are other forms of corruption like senior officials stealing much of the millions of dollars given to the Afghan government to pay and maintain the police. Hundreds of millions of those dollars have disappeared, leaving police in many parts of the country unpaid, unfed, without fuel and ammo and worst of all, cursed with wretched medical care if they are wounded in action. For the cops, it’s too often all about the money.
Lower ranking police not only demand bribes, but also steal or extort cash from innocent people they threaten with arrest. The Taliban have found that the police will for the right price back off from arresting the guilty or carrying out raids. The police will even sell you weapons, ammunition, and information. Too many police never miss an opportunity to steal. The traffic police are considered the worst. Not only will they frequently stop motorists and demand bribes but they will seize cars for the least infraction and later release the vehicle to its owner with most of its parts missing. The presence of U.S. troops or advisors can prevent overt acts of corruption by the police but the corruption is endemic in Afghanistan. It’s the great curse that keeps the country poor and dangerous. It is the main reason why Afghanistan is still the poorest and most dangerous country in Eurasia.
A year ago a new police anti-corruption unit was set up with punishment powers consisting of specific actions commanders could take against misbehaving subordinates (firing, reassignment). In the last year hundreds of corrupt cops have been found out and punished this way. The system was recognition that prosecuting dirty cops is often ineffective because the corrupt courts make this virtually impossible. This is a major problem for the senior commanders caught stealing millions of dollars. In effect, they cannot be punished, or get only a few months in jail and keep most of the millions they took.
Last year some four percent of the 125,000 police were formally charged with corruption. The actual number is several times higher but it’s difficult to get enough proof to change a policemen. The corrupt cops protect each other and will threaten civilian accusers and witnesses with violence or death.
A growing number of senior Afghan officials and tribal leaders are speaking out on how important it is to curb the corruption. This problem is causing more anger and unrest around the country as local warlords steal (via extortion or outright theft) large amounts of the foreign aid. Some of this money goes to hiring more gunmen, who in turn terrorize the population to prevent any organized resistance to the local warlord. This is how the Taliban operates and these Islamic radicals are seen as just another bunch of corrupt thugs. Alas, being a greedy thug has long been admired in Afghanistan, although not by the victims. Because there’s so much more money in Afghanistan the last decade (foreign aid, drug profits, and more economic activity) there is more to steal and a growing number of ambitious and thuggish Afghans are doing just that. The foreigners, and many Afghans, recognize that, in the 21st century, this traditional culture of corruption is an impediment, not a recipe for success. In Afghanistan tradition is killing the future.