Washington has vociferously denounced Afghan corruption as a major obstacle to the United States’ mission in Afghanistan. This has been widely reported. Only one crucial element is missing from this routine censure: a credible explanation of why American nation-building failed there. No wonder. To do so, the US would have to denounce itself.
Corruption in Afghanistan today is acute and permeates all sectors of society. In recent years, anecdotal evidence on the subject has been superseded by the studies of researchers, surveys by NGOs, and periodic reports by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC). There is also the Corruption Perceptions Index of the Berlin-based Transparency International. Last year, it bracketed Afghanistan with two other countries as the most corrupt.
None of these documents, however, refers to the single most important fact when it comes to corruption: that it is Washington-based. It is, in fact, rooted in the massive build-up of US forces there from 2005 onward, the accompanying expansion of American forward operating bases, camps, and combat outposts from 29 in 2005 to nearly 400 five years later, and above all, the tsunami of cash that went with all of this.
Last month, when an Afghan court sentenced Sher Khan Farnood and Khalil Ullah Ferozi, the chairman and chief executive of Kabul Bank, for looting its deposits in a gigantic Ponzi scheme, the event received some media attention. Typically, however, the critical role of the Americans in the bank’s murky past was missing in action.