Kabul blames most corruption on Western allies

August 25, 2010

BY SARDAR AHMAD, AFP AUGUST 23, 2010

KABUL – Afghanistan said Monday blame for most of the corruption plaguing the impoverished country lies with its Western backers who dole out “illegitimate” contracts that have created an “economic mafia”.

Afghanistan, one of the most corrupt countries in the world, is under intense pressure from its foreign backers to end endemic graft.

Presidential spokesman Waheed Omer said Afghanistan’s foreign allies were responsible for the vast bulk of corruption in the country, which is mired in extreme poverty despite receiving tens of billions of dollars in Western aid over the past decade.

“Our international partners provided the ground for some people in Afghanistan to become unbelievably rich. Some people (have) become an economic mafia in Afghanistan,” he said.

Security deals between U.S. and NATO troops and private security companies operating in the troubled nation since 2001 were chief among the “corrupt contracts” that saw cash drain out of Afghanistan, Omer said.

“One of those is private security companies who have earned billions of dollars in contracts and are threatening sustainability of peace here in Afghanistan,” he said.

Karzai last week ordered the 52 private security firms operating in Afghanistan, local and foreign, to disband by the end of the year.

Despite concerns among the international community about finding an alternative source of security, Omer said the Kabul government was “determined” the decree would be carried out.

Private security firms in Afghanistan are employed by U.S. and NATO forces, the Pentagon, the UN mission, aid and non-governmental organisations, embassies and Western media.

They employ about 26,000 registered personnel, though experts say the real number could be as high as 40,000.

The tenor of the decree has been largely welcomed as the presence of tens of thousands of armed private guards is seen as potentially undermining government authority.

Afghans criticize them as overbearing and abusive, particularly on the country’s roads, and Karzai has complained they duplicate the work of the Afghan security forces and divert much-needed resources.

But there are concerns about the tight deadline, which allows little time to negotiate an alternative to private contractors in a country were security is a priority and police are generally not trusted.

Omer said the government would integrate employees of private security firms into Afghan state security forces and other government institutions.

He conceded that some government officials were involved in graft, but said that a much greater share of the corruption was caused by Western allies.

“From every 100 dollars that have come to Afghanistan, 80 dollars was spent by the international community, the remaining by Afghans,” he said.

“From that 80 dollars the international community have spent, there are Afghans who have turned into economic dragons. They’re not the ones who have (received) bribes working for the Afghan government,” he said.

Most of the graft within Karzai’s administration was in “service delivery” such as customs and the courts, although some Afghan politicians had used their positions to obtain military lucrative contracts, he said.

“Like the war on terror, we want corruption to be addressed at its roots. The roots of corruption are in the big contracts,” he added.

Omer defended the release of a presidential aide from jail reportedly at Karzai’s order after he was arrested late last month by a U.S.-backed anti-corruption taskforce.

Mohammad Zia Salehi, a senior official in Karzai’s national security council, was arrested on allegations of soliciting a bribe to close a probe into a money-transferring contract deal.

Omer said Salehi was being investigated by Afghan prosecutors but Karzai had opposed the nature of his detention, which he said contravened his human rights.

© Copyright (c) AFP

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