New Podcast Episode, Featuring Kate Bateman

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, I interview Kate Bateman, currently a senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace’s Afghanistan Program, and previously the Project Lead for the “Lessons Learned” program with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Our conversation, which in many ways complements our previous episode’s interview with Jodi Vittori, focuses on the role that corruption played in the failure of the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan and the collapse of the Afghan government that the U.S. and its allies supported, as well as the lessons that can be learned both from the overall experience and, more specifically, from SIGAR’s work. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations: KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

1 thought on “New Podcast Episode, Featuring Kate Bateman

  1. Very interesting podcasts on Afghanistan. A couple of thoughts on the question about the possible dilemma between the security first approach where corruption is put on the back burner, and prioritizing the fight against corruption in order to create legitimacy for your efforts.

    One major reason why the US got into this toxic binary between supporting and tolerating corrupt elements or compromising the fight against the Taliban was the refusal to let surrendering Taliban surrender in 2001. It’s been a part of Afghan history that when a government is falling, people try to switch sides in order to protect themselves from persecution, and if possible, find some form of accomodation within the new set up. Many Taliban people were willing to return to their villages and resume their previous apolitical lives. But the US would have none of it. Taliban had to be hunted and tortured. This resulted in three problems.

    First, it created a corrupt enterprise where opportunistic people would hand over or report random individuals as Taliban to earn reward money or get even with their personal rivals. Secondly, it took away the incentive for any Taliban members to surrender and start living an apolitical life in return for amnesty. Third, this continued pursuit of Taliban when they had mostly melted away resulted in needless civilian casualties in large numbers, and that, coupled with the vast amounts of corruption due to which economic benefits did not reach many Afghans in the country side, became one of the recruting causes for the Taliban.

    The best reporting on all this, to my knowledge, has been done by Anand Gopal. Anyone interested in understanding what happened in Afghanistan must at the very least listen to his book talk

    and also read his recent piece in the New yorker here
    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/09/13/the-other-afghan-women
    (As an aside, the youtube clip above also talks about the Haqqani network and the role of the Pakistani military in a way that is usually missing from the conventional wisdom on the subject.)

    Had the US gone for some form of truth and reconciliation with those who were willing to surrender in return for amnesty, it would have had the space to focus on developing a better and cleaner post-Taliban system without this idea that it must tolerate corruption in order to defeat the Taliban. The Taliban were actually defeated and were by and large willing to accept that. The US defeated itself by not grabbing the opportunity.

    The biggest take away from this should be that (a) arrogance is a terrible thing, and (b) there’s a need for all of us to do more to scrutinize what our governments and foreign policy elites do. For two decades, security and foreign policy pundits have been putting forward all kinds of nonsense on Afghanistan, which should make us seriously rethink about why they had it so wrong. The lazy and charitable explanation will be that these were just honest mistakes by otherwise well-intentioned people. While I don’t wish to cast doubts on intentions, I definitely think that the ‘mistakes’ in analysis stemmed from genuine issues in the way this foreign policy elite operates and often perpetuates its group-think and sloppy analysis. The mainstream media is supposed to scrutinize them and hold them accountable but unfortunately it often tends to mostly go along with them. If this is not changed, and we don’t find a way to challenge their group-think, we will see more blunders in the coming decades, and the ultimate price will be paid by hapless citizens of some developing countries.

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