Afghanistan's national shame
Ashraf Ghani appeared steely and determined when he approached the speaker's podium to address the International Community gathered in London in December 2014. The audience, all of Afghanistan's largest and most loyal partners, had travelled to London to listen to the new President and his Chief Executive's visions for Afghanistan.
Before the conference, Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah's advisors had worked for weeks on the National Unity Government's vision for a new, strong and self-reliant Afghanistan.
The vision paper impressed the donor community. But the participants had come to hear more. They had also come to learn how the new Government would deal with Afghanistan's national shame – corruption. Fortunately they were not disappointed.
Overall, the new vision for Afghanistan offered the challenges of corruption four times as much attention than those of security and political stability – and perhaps with good reason. Both President Ghani and his Chief Executive are fully aware that their nations gravest challenge might not be the Taliban, but corruption.
Afghanistan consistently ranks at the bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, along with Sudan, North Korea and Somalia. Corruption is so deeply woven into the social fabric of the country that it's almost accepted as part of everyday life.
Such an extreme level of corruption is fatal to the long-term stability, security and development of Afghanistan. It drains the country's already limited budget. It hampers development, deters private investment and ultimately helps feed the insurgency. It undermines the legitimacy of the Government, stops aid reaching those who need it most and constantly jeopardizes many of the gains made over the last 14 years.
Furthermore, corrupt practices have placed thousands of unqualified individuals in top jobs, further eroding ordinary Afghan's trust in the government.
President Ghani is well aware of how severely corruption impedes his Government's ability to rule. At the state dinner hosted by the US Secretary of State John Kerry in March,the President referred to "the honesty of knowing that we are among the most corrupt countries on Earth"; he called corruption "a national shame…we will not tolerate". And he promised to overcome this national shame.
Later, speaking to Gwen Ifillon PBS Newshour, President Ghani called corruption a "cancer that eats through our societies" and reiterated his Government's promise to "systematically focus on the underlying causes, and not just symptoms" of corruption.
Endemic corruption is an existential threat to the Afghan nation. However it appears to be a threat that the President and Chief Executive intend to address– not just in words and visons, but in will and actions – and through their own personal example.
The European Union is a long-term friend of Afghanistan and the Afghan people. We are here for the long haul and we have pledged to continue our exceptional level of financial assistance until at least 2020.
If the national shame of Afghanistan is to be washed away,words are not enough!
The Author is the European Union Special Representative in Afghanistan
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