x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Fight corruption for Afghan investment

Conferences like the one in Dubai are proof that investors are rooting for Afghanistan. Yet achieving this end will take more than well-wishes and good intent.

It was encouraging to see potential Afghan investors gather in Dubai this week to discuss economic growth in the embattled country. As The National reported yesterday, linkages are finally being made between development, modernisation and stability in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, investor optimism alone will not rescue Afghanistan from the ravages of war. Afghans themselves must recognise the importance of outside capital to the development of their country. Ten years after the Taliban's fall, it's not entirely clear that many Afghan leaders do.

On paper, the country's investment climate has shown improvement. Some sectors, like mining and telecommunications, have even attracted capital. The trouble is, what looks good in principle is not always put into practice. As the US State Department acknowledged earlier this year, corruption is "one of the biggest obstacles to foreign direct investment". Coming from an American government yearning for an exit strategy, such an admission hardly inspires confidence.

Addressing corruption won't be easy, but it is essential for investment to flourish. Mechanisms for the resolution of commercial disputes - like fair and equitable courts - are an urgent need. Whether the political will exists to construct these institutions is another question. From the bottom rungs of power all the way to the top, corruption has been endemic. Mismanagement nearly brought down Kabul Bank earlier this year, for instance, a bank whose executives had close ties to President Hamid Karzai's re-election campaign.

It might be said that fighting and dying for a nation fraught with such corruption is not worth the sacrifice. These arguments hold extra weight for families who have paid the ultimate price. But if not the Americans and Nato, then who? Investment may be key to Afghanistan's future, but security is key to investment. Reversing this trend is the paradox of rebuilding Afghanistan.

Conferences like the one in Dubai are proof that investors are rooting for Afghanistan. Yet achieving this end will take more than well-wishes and good intent. It will require greater security. And it will take ownership from Afghans themselves, ownership that has too often been used to line local pockets rather than increase the wealth of a struggling nation.