Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai accused on Saturday the countries that fund his government and military with enabling the widespread corruption that undermines his efforts to establish rule of law in the war-wracked country. (Ahmad Jamshid / AP)
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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's president accused on Saturday the countries that fund his government and military with enabling the widespread corruption that undermines his efforts to establish rule of law in the war-wracked country.
Graft and payoffs are widely recognized as a major problem facing Afghanistan as the government works to establish authority over a volatile country and win the trust of the people over from the Taliban insurgency. The country regularly ranks among the most corrupt in the world in indexes and nearly every Afghan has stories of having to pay a bribe to a police officer or a government official.
International donors have long argued that they are trying to help Hamid Karzai's administration clean up the endemic corruption but are stymied by his unwillingness to prosecute political allies. Karzai in turn has repeatedly said that he has not been given the ability to control the billions of dollars flowing in to Afghanistan from foreign countries and so has not been able to police the funding.
"Corruption in Afghanistan is a reality, a bitter reality," Karzai said in a nationally televised speech. "The part of this corruption that is in our offices is a small part: that is bribes. The other part of corruption, the large part, is hundreds of millions dollars that are not ours. We shouldn't blame ourselves for that. That part is from others and imposed on us."
Karzai argued that foreign donors give contracts to high-ranking Afghan officials or to their relatives in an effort to gain influence over the government, thereby sowing the seeds for corruption.
As an example, he brought up his half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, who was seen as the main power broker in southern Kandahar province before he was assassinated by insurgents in 2011. Karzai recalled a conversation with former U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal in which McChrystal told Karzai to rein in his brother because he was corrupt. Karzai said he pointed out that it was the U.S. government, not the Afghan government, that was awarding contracts to Ahmed Wali Karzai.
"I asked him, why have you given contracts to the president's brother? Why give to him and to other high ranking government officials?" Karzai told the crowd assembled for the speech at a high school in the capital.
The question of the roots of corruption in Afghanistan is only going to become more important in the coming years, as donors have made much of their future funding conditional on evidence that the Afghan government is cleaning up the pervasive system off payoffs and patronage. And there has been debate within the Afghan government over who to blame.
Even at Saturday's event, Karzai's top anti-corruption official spoke first and pointed his finger at other Afghan officials, without mentioning the international donors. He said that the courts have not done enough to prosecute corruption cases and administration officials and lawmakers need to be forced to explain things like large property acquisitions.
"The system is the problem," Azizullah Ludin told the crowd.
Karzai has repeatedly taken populist stances against his foreign allies, placing blame on them for many of the country's ills. In the past, he has said that NATO local offices known as Provincial Reconstruction Teams undermine the Afghan government's authority by doling out money directly to the public, and that foreign countries encourage criminality by funding private security companies that operate outside the law. The foreign security companies have since been shut down and the Provincial Reconstruction Teams are being phased out.