Afghanistan’s Other Front
By JOSEPH KEARNS GOODWIN, New York Times, September 16, 2009
ALLEGATIONS of ballot-stuffing in the presidential election in Afghanistan last month are now so widespread that a recount is necessary, and perhaps even a runoff. Yet this electoral chicanery pales in comparison to the systemic, day-to-day corruption within the administration of President Hamid Karzai, who has claimed victory in the election. Without a concerted campaign to fight this pervasive venality, all our efforts there, including the sending of additional troops, will be in vain.
I have just returned from Afghanistan, where I spent seven months as a special adviser to NATO’s director of communications. On listening tours across the country, we left behind the official procession of armored S.U.V.’s, bristling guns and imposing flak jackets that too often encumber coalition forces when they arrive in local villages. Dressed in civilian clothes and driven in ordinary cars, we were able to move around in a manner less likely to intimidate and more likely to elicit candor.
The recurring complaint I heard from Afghans centered on the untenable encroachment of government corruption into their daily lives — the homeowner who has to pay a bribe to get connected to the sewage system, the defendant who tenders payment to a judge for a favorable verdict. People were so incensed with the current government’s misdeeds that I often heard the disturbing refrain: “If Karzai is re-elected, then I am going to join the Taliban.”
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