Thursday, January 30, 2014

Take the money and run

Even as the Obama administration refuses to take the zero option it promised in Afghanistan with Karzai's refusal to sign the agreement ratified by his loya jurga, the an auditor's report shows that his government stole much of the money flowing to its ministries from the US and NATO governments.

The problems unearthed by the auditors are detailed in a report to be published Thursday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, an American government watchdog. The findings raise new questions about the efficacy and wisdom of giving huge amounts of aid directly to a government known for corruption.
The inspector general’s report is likely to increase tensions with President Hamid Karzai, who has bristled for years at what he says is an orchestrated campaign by President Obama’s administration to undermine his government with embarrassing revelations and leaks.
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Aid from Western countries pays most of the Afghan government’s expenses. The United States’ contribution is by far the largest, and Washington has pushed in recent years to route more of it directly to the Afghan government and less through programs managed by American officials. The direct assistance, which now accounts for about half of all American aid to the government, was a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s strategy to build a credible national government that could capitalize on the battlefield gains made by the surge of American forces in 2009 and 2010.
Just as the surge yielded military gains against the Taliban that have proved to be transient, the efforts to transform the Afghan government have been undercut by the corruption that pervades Mr. Karzai’s administration, as illustrated in the audits and the internal American risk assessments they engendered.
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American officials are displeased with the release of the inspector general’s report, saying it is likely to infuriate the Afghan officials who allowed the auditors from the two auditing firms, KPMG and Ernst & Young, to examine their operations.
The release will probably lead to “reduced cooperation from the Afghan government, and could undermine our ability to conduct proper oversight of direct assistance programs in the future,” the aid agency warned the inspector general in a letter. It implored the inspector general to “not make this sensitive material available to the public.” The inspector general disagreed, arguing that the public’s right to know outweighed the need for secrecy.
So here are the options for the US: A: play a waiting game for a new government to replace Karzai following elections in a few months and hope i) it will sign the agreement and  ii) pretend it will (somehow) develop integrity, responsibility and commitment to democratic ideals and partner with the US to fight the Taliban and rebuild the ruined country or B: realize that the situation is hopeless and leave the Afghans to sort things out for themselves without US and NATO troops and money. With so much money and power at stake for US 'consultants' and contractors, I'm guessing there will be a ferocious fight to stick with A.

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