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Thomas Friedman: Afghan gov corruption is #1 obstacle to democracy— not Taliban

3-time Pulitzer prize-winning journalist on U.S. military surge in Helmand
Robert Maier
Tuesday 28 July 2009

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Thomas Friedman, three-time Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times journalist and author whose columns are syndicated in one-hundred papers worldwide, recently wrote a column on the major problem facing Afghanistan. His July 21 essay, from Helmand province, reflected hopefully on the new American military troops and their growing effort to push the Taliban out.

Not just repelling the autocratic Talibs but also developing public facilities, effective police and courts, health clinics, schools, jobs, and a democratic government, which the troops claim is their ultimate mission is embraced by most Afghans. This has been their fervent hope for nearly eight years.

Friedman, unlike most American main stream journalists, went a step further to show the darker side: America’s partner, the Afghan government, is despised by millions of Afghans. The current Afghan government is comprised of too many notorious characters from the civil war of the 1980s and 1990s who are suspected of horrendous war crimes, but have never faced a transitional justice process. That all attention has been focused on barefoot Talib soldiers at Guantanamo, and none their tie-wearing benefactors has created an open sore in Afghan culture.

Too many members of parliament are suspected of gaining power through fraudulent votes, payoffs, and threats from local militias who bullied and threatened constituents into voting for their commanders. In Kabul, the government is bogged down by cronyism, bribery and incompetence. Outside Kabul, the Talibs rule. Meanwhile a clique of Afghan oligarchs, including members of President Karzai’s family, allegedly skim billions of dollars from foreign aid, shady investors, and the booming illegal drug trade, while giving only lip service to hunting down the Taliban, and a desire to create a democratic society. Sarah Chayse’s book “The Punishment of Virture,” clearly lays out the progression of this Afghan tragedy.

Afghans see through this window dressing. They are discouraged and bewildered that the U.S. has been so complacent with the rule of alleged criminals in Afghanistan. However a few rays of hope are emerging. Two weeks ago, an article appeared in the New York Times on the alleged torture and then murder of 2,000 POWs by Karzai associate and current high-level Afghan government official, Abdul Rashid Dostum. It claimed the U.S. government has refused to investigate these claims for the past seven years. The outcry from the U.S. public eventually forced the Obama administration to say it would investigate. Hopefully it will spur other investigations. We’ll see what happens.

Distinguished journalist Friedman has shed a little more light on the feelings of the Afghan people, and the chance of success by U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Dozens of U.S. and British soldiers are dying in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of U.S.-funded personnel in Afghanistan spend billions of dollars a month borrowed by American and U.K. taxpayers. Will any success come from this sacrifice of blood and treasure?

We certainly hope more mainstream journalists like Mr. Friedman open their eyes and report that unless the U.S. brings justice to Afghanistan, the efforts of millions of people will be wasted. A long trail of murdered innocents, displaced lives, and criminals with pockets stuffed cash will be the tragic result of years of mismanagement, corruption, greed, and bitter disappointment. The U.S. government needs to make this right.

Read the original article on NY Times website.

Kabulpress English pages editor, writer, video producer and educator.

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Forum posts

  • Friedman has touched the right topic. In fact, the obstacle for democracy is not only Taliban. However, there are factors that contributed to them. particularly, at sub national level where governament control is weak and the factors are as follow.

    1: Corruption and power: The porvincial governor offices are furnished with staff who are not based by merit. the selection of them is through relationship and by power. they take bribes from public in order to deliver basic services. The heads are using billions of dollars of international aid and fund through their pocket and it is concluded by the name of Public. This make the public far from democracy and increase Taliban insurgency.

    2: Politically compromise governament and warlordism in Karzai cabinet: Mr. Karzai has compromised and provided provincial goivernor offices to his politically compromise fellows who are in fact warlords and drug dealers and human right vilioters, so how can they bring democracy and deliver basic public services. For example, The people at provinces are saying that governament offcialis police are taking bribe, so how can democracy be in Afghanistan. In fact, Democracy is by name there is no accountibility , no transparency and positions are filled with those who have powere and are human right vilioters and criminals. These are the real obstacles for democracy beside Taliban

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