Corruption and lots of it still remains among the most pressing challenges that Afghanistan faces. The Wikileaks cables released by the whistle blowing website managed by Julian Assange has thrown light on the extent and depth of how corruption has affected, how the government of Afghanistan functions and how the vicious cycle of war and violence in the country is, to an extent, being enabled by astronomical levels of corruption.
Wikileaks cables released long ago towards the end of 2010, paint a horrific picture of how the government and governance in the country also double as "criminal enterprises" where stealing, embezzling, extorting and siphoning off vast sums of money are rampant.
The cables, back then when released, drew little attention inside the Afghan print and electronic media. Perhaps, most of Afghan media people, being unfamiliar with English language, missed out on the explosive contents of the cables.
In other cases, outright self-censorship clipped the wings of the managers of Afghanistan's "fourth estate". For many, the depth of the corruption and its pervasiveness in today's Afghanistan might be an open secret, but for many more that are in the know and involved in the affairs, the cables provide a good glimpse into the country's dark underbelly.
Writing on this topic was necessary even back then at the end of 2010. But it has become more necessary and more urgent now as the security situation in the country has further worsened, the breakdown in governance has become more acute and consequently, the problem of corruption has taken on mind-boggling proportions. The whole system is blinking red and everybody must raise a voice to affect some positive, even if small, change.
Here I do not intend to go through the cables and explain how some of the mechanisms of corruption work as reflected in the cables, but what is really urgent to point out is the extremely destabilizing impacts of rampant corruption on Afghanistan's progress and how this menace can be tackled in a new light and in a new perspective.
Fighting corruption in post-Taliban Afghanistan is as old as the government itself. From declaring "Jihad" against corruption to erecting one anti-corruption office to another larger and costlier, the saga of the drive to "root out" corruption has continued apace.
The good glimpse that Wikileaks cables provide us helps us to see the problem of corruption in the country in a new light. Before that, we need to make a blunt admission. The efforts of the government of Afghanistan and its international partners over the past many years to educe corruption have been negated to a large extent by wrong decisions made by the country's policymakers.
Anti-corruption bureaus and bodies have been set up one after the other. Large sums of money have gone into financing the bureaucratic and running expenses of these bodies and much hue and cry created.
In the latest move, President Karzai created a special bureau that is highest anti-corruption office in the county having the power to oversee ministries and their line departments. In many cases, these anti-corruption bureaus have indeed managed to catch some high-ranking corrupt officials, dossiers filed on them and investigations done.
In the cases of some major figures, investigations have remained only in the file and no arrest or warrant for arrest has been executed. Political influence-peddling and use of power and money comes into the picture.
But the fact is that even if these corrupt officials were caught, convicted and thrown behind bars, these measures would do little to solve Afghanistan's dilemma of rampant corruption. The problem is much more deep-seated.
A deep-seated problem
Afghanistan's corruption problem is too deep-seated and entrenched to get solved by a few arrests, convictions and prison sentences. As the cables clearly put it on display, what amounts to corruption has become a major instrument of political strategy in the hands of our elite.
In order to cement positions, hold political power blocs together, cement relations, reward or punish political friends, cronies and allies, using corrupt and illegal ways has long become a norm and this is the mother and the source of Afghanistan's mind-boggling corruption frenzy.
Time and again and even before the Wikileaks revelations came about, we had heard about corrupt governors and ministers who, while being pathetically incompetent and parasitically leech-like, looted people, government coffers and lined their pockets. These wrong political appointments are based on short-sighted, predatory and corrupt deal-makings and our country's leadership are most to blame for this state of affairs.
Fighting corruption in Afghanistan should be started not from inside the ministries and departments which the government's bureaucracy apparatus but it should start from the political class and from the political appointments that are made. The phenomenon of corruption in Afghanistan, much like the rest of South Asian countries such as Pakistan and India, has a top-down flow rather then bottom-up.
Therefore, fighting corruption by catching only the bureaucrats and leaving out the political class would end up being only fire-fighting and not a fundamental approach to solving the complicated problem. In India and Pakistan, anti-corruption bureaus have long been established from as early as 1960s to fight, guard against and reduce administrative and bureaucratic corruption.
In the cases of both India and Pakistan, corruption, far from being reduced or kept at manageable levels, has reached significant levels over the past few decades. This is a result of neglecting the fundamental question of who is the initiator of corruption.
Is it the bureaucrat or the politician? It is obviously the politician. Now, if Afghanistan continues to follow on the same wrong paths that other similar countries did, corruption would become more pervasive and rampant.
Therefore, it is time for the country's top leadership including the president to make their political appointments in key national positions keeping in mind the personal integrity of the candidates. In addition, the corrupt officials should be investigated even if it comes with political costs.