FEATURE- Investments Without Accountability: How Corruption Led To Afghanistan's Fall To Taliban

FEATURE- Investments Without Accountability: How Corruption Led to Afghanistan's Fall to Taliban

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 24th November, 2021) Afghan anti-corruption activist, Wahidullah Azizi, shares his experience with Sputnik about corruption and self-dealing in his country and how the endemic problem could have played a key role in the swift crumble of the previous government to the Taliban (banned by United Nations for terrorist activities).

Born in Afghanistan in 1992, Wahidullah Azizi never had a birth certificate because, like many newborns in his country, his mother gave birth to him at home instead of in a hospital. When his father tried to obtain a national identification (ID) card for him after the new government took over the country following the US invasion in 2001, the Afghan officials told his father that Azizi looked much older and decided to register him as though he was born in 1990.

"When you are a father and you go to the national ID office in Afghanistan, you tell them:' My son is 7 years old.' They would say:' No, he doesn't look like a 7-year old. He looks much older.' They just write what they want to write and you can't contradict them," Azizi told Sputnik.

As a result, instead of showing his real age, Azizi's passport has always carried the age the Afghan officials gave him.

"One of the problems in Afghanistan was that they're working in the public sector, they should behave like public servants, right? But they behave like the public masters. This was the attitude they were showing to the people (in Afghanistan)," he said.

Azizi, who has been working for various anti-corruption organization in Afghanistan since 2016, argued that this kind of attitude from Afghan officials led to deeply rooted corruption under the previous government in Afghanistan before the Taliban took over the country in August.

"Many Afghans would still have this notion. Let's say if you go to a government service center to get a passport or an ID card, there's this understanding that you have to pay for it, even if they're free services for citizens. This was the unwritten rule and every Afghan would understand it," he said.

Before the US invasion, people frowned at corrupt practices in Afghanistan. But graft and double-dealing has since become widely accepted under the previous government in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, Azizi explained.

"Before the civil war started in Afghanistan, corruption had always been seen as a very negative thing. If someone is found to be was corrupt, he would be cast away from the society and shorn by his friends. Over the past 20 years, bowever, corruption has reared its ugly head with every Afghan accepting paying a bribe to get services as a given. It became such a deeply rooted problem in the society," Azizi said.

Before the United States ousted the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001, the country had been plagued by domestic conflicts for decades. Each time a new conflict arose, the new war would become a new opportunity for people to generate profits and make a living.

"When a country is deeply entangled in different internecine conflicts, the whole economy revolves around the wars. Afghanistan used to have this war-driven economy. When there was war, there was money. When there was no war, there was no money," Azizi said.

While the US invasion brought relative peace to Afghanistan, it also injected an unprecedented amount of investments into the country's economy. The United States has spent over $2.26 trillion in Afghanistan since 2001, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

Instead of making a living from fighting in various domestic conflicts, Afghans found a new way to make money: getting a piece of the massive investments from the United States.

Azizi believed the competition for US investments was the root cause of the widespread corruption under the previous government in Afghanistan.

"The Americans did a very poor job on nation building in Afghanistan, despite frequent denials that they wanted to get involved in state building in the country. They were deeply involved in Afghan politics for years and there was a huge amount of money involved. But we didn't have a control mechanism for that. Everybody was trying to enrich themselves and there was very little accountability. Now, some of those Afghan officials have fled the country," the activist said.

Injecting massive amounts of investments into a war-torn country was a fatal mistake in US policies in Afghanistan, Azizi pointed out.

"I think the West is partly to blame for that because you just don't throw money into a war-torn country, where there's very little accountability. There's this theory that aid money cannot replace state building. It's been proven not only in Afghanistan, but also in some other African countries, where they offer the aid but those places still turned out to be failed states," he said.

Instead of simply offering the investments, the United States also needed to teach the Afghan government how to make use of the aid money properly, Azizi suggested.

"The simple logic would be: just to show them how to fish, instead of just giving them fish," he said.

The activist added that a lot of the US investments actually went back to big American corporations that became major contractors on various projects in Afghanistan.

When the news of the Taliban occupying a number of cities in Afghanistan first emerged in early August, most people in the country didn't imagine that the US-backed government would completely collapse within two weeks.

When Azizi first heard the news of the Taliban's advance, he called his mother who lives in Mazar-i-Sharif to find out the latest situation. He was shocked when his mother told him that the Taliban had already taken over the city.

The anti-corruption activist believed that the deeply rooted corruption under the previous Afghan government was a key factor in the Taliban's apparent invincibility because the government forces had no motivation to fight.

"It was not a military defeat (for the government forces) because the soldiers did not fight. I think there was a very grave understanding that many soldiers would ask:' Whom I'm fighting for?' The government would steal from their food, fuel or clothing," he said.

The fact that previous Afghan president Ashraf Ghani offered key roles in the military to Afghans, who received Western education and came from the overseas diaspora, may have brewed discontent and mistrust among the more experienced military officers, Azizi added.

Many Afghans, including the soldiers under the previous government, may face reprisals from the Taliban for their previous activities in assisting the US forces or serving under the previous government. But the Taliban also faces daunting challenges of how to govern properly once in power and provide sufficient economic opportunities and jobs for Afghans, the activist pointed out.

Azizi, who completed his studies in Germany last month after arriving there in September 2020, said he wouldn't mind considering moving back to Afghanistan if the situation stabilizes and new job opportunities emerge.

Compared to taking low-end service industry jobs as many newly arrived immigrants do in Europe, Azizi would prefer to continue to leverage his expertise and previous experience to work on something that has bearing to Afghanistan.

His biggest concerns under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan were the fate of his two younger sisters, who may face further restrictions on education and employment after new segregation policies between men and women were introduced.