Friday, January 20, 2012

Afghan, ISAF Officials Detail Corruption Fight

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – The battle against corruption in Afghanistan is as crucial to the nation’s future as the fight against the insurgency, two leaders at the forefront of that struggle said today.

Army Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster commands the International Security Assistance Force’s counter-corruption task force. He and Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai briefed reporters at the Pentagon from Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul on the political, economic, judicial and law enforcement effort to curb corruption in that nation’s young government.

Mosazai, a past candidate for the Afghan parliament, said his country’s current struggle is best understood in the context of its recent history. From 2001 to now, Afghanistan has experienced an “earth-and-sky” change, he said.

“Afghanistan was a severely isolated country, where the people lived at the mercy of a brutal regime supported by international terrorists,” Mosazai said. In contrast, he added, the nation now has a democratic constitution, a robust free press, more than 11,000 miles of paved roads and 8 million children in school, more than a third of whom are girls. In 2001, fewer than a million Afghan children went to school, and all of them were boys.

“We have seen an exponential expansion of … health services,” Mosazai said. “Today about 80 percent of the Afghan population up and down the country has access to at least basic health services.”

In 2001, an Afghan citizen would have traveled up to two days to make a phone call to a relative or a friend outside Afghanistan, while today more than 12 million Afghans own cell phones, and at least 1 million are online, the spokesman noted.

Afghanistan has emerged from “the dark isolation that it lived under back in the 1990s during the civil war and the Taliban regime,” he said.

“Today we have close to 70 missions in the four corners of the world - embassies, consulates and permanent missions - maintaining and advancing our relations with the region and with the international community,” Mosazai noted.

Afghanistan’s people are determined to preserve their nation’s gains, and they seek regional and international partnership and assistance in their quest for peace and long-term stability and security, he said.

In December, the Afghanistan international conference in Bonn, Germany, drew representatives from more than 100 nations and organizations. That conference, Mosazai said, resulted in “a strong political commitment to support and [assist] Afghanistan” through the 2014 security transition period, “and then for the decade … of transformation in Afghanistan, all the way to 2025.”

During four conferences scheduled for the next six months, he added, Afghan leaders hope to resolve regional issues and flesh out international commitments “so that we get enough time in Afghanistan to develop our domestic revenue sources - our natural wealth, our mines, our agriculture industry - and revive Afghanistan's place, Afghanistan's role as the region's land bridge and hub.”

Afghan leaders seek “a reciprocal commitment between Afghanistan and the international community, where we on the Afghan side continue to implement the reforms that we know are necessary,” Mosazai said.

McMaster said battling corruption is “a critical effort in this really critical phase in Afghanistan's long struggle for peace and justice.”

McMaster noted ISAF forces and their civilian counterparts have taken steps – reforming contract processes, screening people and companies, and overseeing aid donations – to ensure the international community isn’t creating opportunities for corruption.

“We have [in the past] often delivered much-needed international assistance to Afghan institutions and to Afghanistan broadly without adequate oversight,” he added.

ISAF supports the Afghan-led effort to build a political system resistant to corruption, the general said.

The Afghan-ISAF goal, he added, is to “strengthen and harden” key Afghan institutions, especially those involving security, law enforcement and the courts, and so reduce the threat of corruption to the state.

McMaster’s task force also is working with Afghan law enforcement and intelligence organizations “to understand this overlapping problem of insurgency and terrorism, corruption, organized crime and the narcotics trade,” he said.

“We should acknowledge up front the biggest criminal organization in Afghanistan is the Taliban,” he said. “Not just because they commit mass murder of innocent people as their principal tactic in the war, but also because they fund their efforts in large measure through a broad range of illicit activity, especially the narcotics trade.”

People, money, narcotics and drug precursor chemicals flow through the networks that link the Taliban and criminal organizations to the broad problem of transnational organized crime, McMaster said.

That activity victimizes the Afghan people and weakens government institutions “through the corrosive effects of the money that comes in and those who are put into positions to facilitate, protect and profit from the narcotics trade,” the general said.

The U.S. departments of State and Justice work with the task force to understand the overall problem and support Afghan-led law enforcement and judicial action against corruption, he added.

Members of the Afghan government must generate the political will to take on the problems, McMaster said.

“What Afghan leaders often see is the power of these criminal networks,” he said. “They often see political risks associated with taking them on. But I think now, because we've worked on this problem together, we can also see the long-term cost of inaction against these networks.”

McMaster noted Afghan President Hamid Karzai said last week the nation must “lift impunity and protection” from key narcotics traffickers.

“And you've had the arrest of four key traffickers just in the last week, which is a very encouraging sign,” the general said.

McMaster said anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan are achieving “quantifiable progress.”

“How that progress relates to the overall scale of the problem, … I can't tell you yet,” he said. “We're working on that as well.”

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