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Kleptocracies and Democracies: A Clash of Civilizations.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Kleptocracy (noun) - government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed; also : a particular government of this kind

Source: Merriam-Webster.com Online Dictionary



The newly-democratic South Asian nation, Afghanistan, recently endured a highly contested election. The election, by default, resulted in the re-election of Hamid Karzai. And while in his inaugural speech President Karzai declared to pursue and rid the fractured nation of corruption, the legitimacy of the Karzai Administration has been severely diminished among the Afghan people and the international community. From a policy perspective, this poses great challenges to the Obama Administration as it ratchets up its military efforts abroad. Much of the task the Obama Administration faces is to garner lagging public support among the American people. As well, many nations a part of the NATO Alliance find themselves confronting similar skepticism among their populaces. As well as the widespread accusations of an illegitimate election, much of the eroded support for the mission in Afghanistan and the Karzai Administration has stemmed from the realization of an increasingly kleptocratic Afghan state. One new case involving a corruption scandal Hamid Karzai's brothers is of particular note.

An observed kleptocratic state, as defined by a scholarly report from UCLA, comprises of "a state controlled and run by an individual, or a small group, who use their power to transfer a large fraction of society's resources to themselves". Ahmed Wali Karzai is President Hamid Karzai's brother and suspect of numerous corruption scandals. In late October, The New York Times uncovered an eight-year-long CIA operation utilizing Ahmed Wali Karzai "to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home." Other accusations against Wali Karzai raise the near-certainty of his involvement in the country's $4 million opium trade which, ironically, acts as the main source of funding for the Taliban fighters. This case highlights several troubling issues ranging from skewed American priorities and the turning of a blind eye to criminal activities carried out by the President's brother.

Such a case as this lends credibility to the argument of an increasingly kleptocratic government in Afghanistan: a president and his closest family members and friends taking part in unsavory activities to gain status and prosperity. Furthermore, while such activities that prop up the notorious Afghan opium trade are prosperous for few, they also gravely threaten the potential for peace and stability in the ravaged nation.

Much of the success of the American President's new strategy in Afghanistan relies on a strong partnership with the Afghan government aimed at toppling the networks of corruption and building a destitute and impoverished nation. Among such realities, it is necessary to question the likelihood of a "strong" partnership with the Afghan government. If corruption becomes further entrenched (as the trajectory presently appears), the Karzai Administration will lose greater amounts of popular support and the United States' mission will inevitably be delegitimized. Is it practical for the United States to simultaneously advocate nation-building and the establishment of democracy as well as prop up self-interested leaders without regard to the well-being of their people?

President Obama and the policy makers most-involved with the development of the occupation must realize that nation-building should be focused on the promotion of the Afghan people, not the prosperity of its leaders. Stricter expectations and greater oversight are needed to reverse this troubling trend towards a self-interested government. If successful, the U.S., the NATO Alliance, and the Afghan nation can begin the process of gaining popularity of cause among the Afghan people, further undercut the insurgency's support, and prepare for the necessary steps of rebuilding a nation.

Continued Readings:
Foreign Affairs: Letter from Kabul (Part I: Corruption)
Foreign Affairs: The L-word in Afghanistan

Image Source: "Army: The Soldier's Newspaper" published by the Australia's Department of Defense

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