The Corruption-Security Nexus: Lessons from Afghanistan (Part 2)

This spring has been a season of reckoning with regard to anticorruption efforts in Afghanistan, with two important reports on that topic released last February. The first report, a study on the relationship between corruption and stability in conflict and post-conflict zones from Transparency International (TI) Germany, was the subject of my last post. The second study, was  the U.S. military published a report prepared by the Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis (JCOA) Division of the Joint Staff. The JCOA study is disheartening, with the report’s key findings amounted to an admission that U.S. forces initially contributed to corruption in Afghanistan. Indeed, the report finds that actions on the part of the International Security Assistance Force, the Afghan government, and the Afghan population fostered a “culture of impunity,” and that even where military taskforces made progress in fighting corruption, lack of unity and a lack of Afghan political will frustrated the taskforces’ headway.

The JCOA report offers recommendations for operationalizing what it refers to as Counter/Anti-Corruption (CAC) in the future term in Afghanistan and suggesting ways to optimize CAC from Day 1 in future missions. One of the major, and potentially fruitful tasks, will be to integrate fully CAC into counterinsurgency (COIN). I would supplement the JCOA Division’s recommendations with several additional suggestions:

  • Define explicitly the threats that corruption poses to a security mission. The JCOA report criticizes the coalition for failing to recognize how corruption would impede the ability of the International Security Assistance Force to accomplish its mission in Afghanistan. However, the report fails to explicitly address the question of why this is so; that is, the report does not elucidate the mechanism (or mechanisms) by which corruption undermines security. The report comes closest to articulating the corruption-security link when it explicitly notes the alignment between the objectives of anticorruption and COIN operations, and gives examples of how CAC can support COIN by, for example, strengthening the host state’s government and protecting the population. However, given that the report laments a lack of shared understanding of the nature of the nexus between corruption and the ISAF mission, as well as confusion over who within the military forces had “ownership” of anticorruption, spelling out the relationship would help to ground future CAC efforts.
  • Emphasize the development of more transparent and robust government institutions within a (post-) conflict state’s existing governmental frameworks. For example, as the TI Report I discussed in my last post noted, the Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense has become more accountable, and credits the efforts of a NATO-led multinational anticorruption taskforce called Shafafiyat (“Transparency”), which partnered with the Afghan Ministry of Defense, as the source of that improvement.
  • Develop of institutions like a free press and an independent judiciary. While one can reasonably query just how fully such institutions can be realized in a state that lacks genuinely competitive democratic elections, and whether they can be sustainable, we’ve seen at least early-stage forms of these institutions take root in China; it is possible that with a sufficient and sustained effort from experienced professionals in these fields from other states who help citizens of post-conflict states to build these institutions, progress is possible. The absence of a functional judiciary, as the JCOA Division report notes, severely curtails the ability to hold corrupt actors accountable. As a Senior Anticorruption Advisor from USAID observed, “the biggest frustration here in country is 
with the [Attorney General’s Office],” adding that, “When they do go after someone, it’s to exhort a bribe to prevent prosecution.”
  • Invest in physical development of critical infrastructure. The JCOA Division report reminds readers that the time horizon for successful anticorruption efforts will extend past the end date for the U.S. force presence in Afghanistan. Long-term physical development also aligns with the COIN objectives of protecting the population, bolstering the host-state’s legitimacy, and de-valuing insurgents.

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