x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Drugs and bribery - the engines of the Afghan economy

A United Nations report finds that in equal proportions bribery and the opium trade amount to half of Afghanistan's gross domestic product. In 2009, Afghan citizens had to pay US$ 2.5 billion in bribes. After questioning 7,600 people, the UN report found that nearly 60 per cent of those surveyed were more concerned about corruption than they were about security or unemployment.

A United Nations report found that combined in equal proportions bribery and the opium trade amount to half of Afghanistan's gross domestic product. In 2009, Afghan citizens had to pay about US$ 2.5 billion in bribes. After questioning 7,600 people, the UN report found that nearly 60 per cent of those surveyed were more concerned about corruption than they were about security or unemployment. Afghan citizens see those entrusted with upholding the law as most guilty of violating it, according to the survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. About 25 per cent of Afghans had to pay at least one bribe to police and local officials during the survey period. Between 10 to 20 per cent had to pay bribes either to judges, prosecutors or members of the government. The international community also faced criticism. International organisations and NGOs "are corrupt and are in the country just to get rich" in the opinion of 54 per cent of those Afghans surveyed. Lacking confidence in the effectiveness of public institutions, Afghans turn to alternative sources of security and welfare, including criminal and anti-government groups. "Corruption is the biggest impediment to improving security, development and governance in Afghanistan," said Antonio Maria Costa, the head of UNODC. "It is also enabling other forms of crime, like drug trafficking and terrorism," he warned. The BBC said: "The findings contrast sharply with a recent BBC survey in which the economy appeared to top Afghan concerns. "The survey commissioned by the BBC and other broadcasters in December suggested that fewer Afghans (14 per cent) saw corruption as the biggest problem than the economy (34 per cent) and security situation (32 per cent). "According to the UN survey, bribes averaged $160 in contrast to an average Afghan annual income of $425." Meanwhile, The New York Times, reporting on the latest daring assault on Afghanistan's capital by the Taliban, said: "A team of militants launched a spectacular assault at the heart of the Afghan government on Monday, with two men detonating suicide bombs and the rest fighting to the death only 50 yards from the gates of the presidential palace. "The attack paralysed the city for hours, as hundreds of Afghan commandos converged and opened fire. The battle unfolded in the middle of Pashtunistan Square, a traffic circle where the palace of President Hamid Karzai, the Ministry of Justice and the Central Bank, the target of the attack, are located. "As the gun battle raged, another suicide bomber, this one driving an ambulance, struck a traffic circle a half-mile away, sending a second mass of bystanders fleeing in terror. Afghan officials said that three soldiers and two civilians - including a child - were killed, and at least 71 people were wounded. "The assault was the latest in a series of audacious operations by insurgents meant to shatter the calm of the Afghan capital. The Taliban are a mostly rural phenomenon in a mostly rural country; the overwhelming majority of United States troops are deployed in small outposts in the countryside. On most days, the war does not reach the urban centres. "But increasingly the Taliban are bringing the fight into the cities, further demoralising Afghans and lending to the impression that virtually no part of the country is safe from the group's penetration." The Economist had a less foreboding interpretation of events. "Two Taliban suicide bombers detonated their bombs to modest effect. Five others holed up in a shopping mall, where they died as the building was reduced to a burned-out hulk. Three or four more were killed in an attempt to take over a movie theater. By all accounts, Afghan government forces responded quickly, aggressively and competently. Some reports during the day suggested other attackers might be at large, but the ultimate consensus was that Taliban claims of 20 attackers had been exaggerated and that in fact all were dead. One thing this shows is that the Taliban can get armed men into Kabul to kill people. The other thing it shows is that it can't get them back out." The BBC noted: "Afghan security forces did battle - and prevailed. " 'It's a very vulnerable situation,' remarked one government minister who watched the violent drama unfold from the windows of his office. Several gunmen, breathtakingly close, took up positions on the roof of a nearby building. "Speaking by telephone shortly after the gunfire subsided, he called it 'very well organised - widespread'. "Afghan MP Shukria Barakzai, who was also in the area at the time, vented her anger over yet more suffering inflicted on civilians. "Three Afghan soldiers, and two civilians including a child, were killed. Officials maintain none of the attackers, said to be Taliban, survived. " 'It will cast a shadow over the international conference in London next week,' said Ms Barakzai. The gathering is meant to send a signal to Afghans and the world that the government in Kabul is taking charge, tackling security and governance. "Only the day before, visiting British Foreign Secretary David Miliband pointed to Afghan control of the capital's security as proof it could and would be done, slowly but surely, across the entire country." Reuters said: "The attacks were perfectly timed. They came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai was swearing in cabinet members inside the presidential palace only hundreds of metres away, and after days of media chatter about a new 'reintegration' drive to lure insurgents away from the battlefield. "They were also dramatic, with an exploding ambulance adding to compelling images of a city under siege. Gunfire and loud explosions shook Kabul as black smoke billowed from the shopping center where fighters battled security forces for hours. "Headlines in newspapers and television stations around the world talked of 'terror in Kabul' and shattered confidence. "The overall casualty toll, however, was relatively low. And government forces never lost control of their key buildings."

pwoodward@thenational.ae