On August 15, 2021, the Taliban marched into Kabul unopposed, toppling the Western-backed government. The Taliban came to power in a very corrupt country. Afghan police regularly used informal checkpoints to extort truck drivers. Education and banking were also rife with corruption. Some estimates put the amount of bribes paid annually in Afghanistan at somewhere between $2 and $5 billion, or about 13 percent of the country’s GDP. Afghan military commanders siphoned off huge amounts of money by listing non-existent soldiers in their units, and then pocketing the salaries of these “ghost soldiers.” And on top of all this, former president Ashraf Ghani allegedly stole over $100 million on his way out of Afghanistan. From top to bottom, Afghanistan had a major corruption problem.
The Taliban, by contrast, cultivated a reputation for relatively clean government. During the Taliban’s previous reign, from 1996 until 2001, bribes were uncommon, and the justice system was viewed as comparatively honest (and certainly less corrupt than that of the Western-backed government established after the Taliban’s ouster). Over the last two decades, the justice administered by Taliban judges in areas under Taliban control has been popular among many Afghans precisely because they perceive it as less corrupt and more efficient. This may explain why, despite the Taliban’s extremism and abysmal human rights record, the group was viewed favorably by many ordinary Afghans—at least when contrasted with the Western-backed government. Many commentators have suggested this factor contributed to the Taliban’s takeover of the country (see here and here). And since the Taliban has come to power, early reports suggest that it is governing in a relatedly non-corrupt manner. For example, business owners in Kabul—often the targets of shakedowns by security forces under the Ghani government—note that Taliban security forces check in on them regularly to offer help with security, without demanding bribes. Afghans also report that the police no longer extort bribe payments from truckers, who now just pay a single toll to the Taliban. More generally, citizens in places like Kabul have offered positive preliminary assessments, regarding the comparatively lower corruption of the new Taliban government.
Does this mean that, notwithstanding the Taliban’s terrible record on other issues, the Taliban government is likely to continue governing the country relatively cleanly? There is no way to know, but there are good reasons to be skeptical. Those who welcomed the Taliban as a less corrupt alternative to the Western-backed government are likely to be disappointed.