GENEVA (Reuters) – Corruption is entrenched in Afghanistan, leaving the poor at the mercy of the powerful while security-obsessed international forces often turn a blind eye to abuses, a United Nations report charged on Tuesday.
Despite $35 billion injected into the economy since 2002, one in three Afghans, or 9 million people, live in absolute poverty while another third survive just above the poverty line, it said.
“A key driver of poverty in Afghanistan is the abuse of power. Many Afghan power-holders use their influence to drive the public agenda for their own personal or vested interests,” said the report issued by the U.N. human rights office.
As a result, the government of President Hamid Karzai is often unable to deliver basic services, such as security, food or shelter, or protect communities from lawlessness, it said.
Karzai says corruption is a problem in Afghanistan, but the West shares much of the blame for poorly managing billions of dollars in aid programmes, which dwarf Afghanistan’s own budget.
U.S. efforts to sideline his half-brother Ahmad Wali Karzai met resistance on Tuesday from provincial officials who warned of chaos in the Taliban’s birthplace if he is pushed out.
As head of Kandahar’s provincial council, Ahmad Wali Karzai wields considerable power in the south, but he has been accused of amassing a vast fortune from the drugs trade, intimidating rivals and having links to the CIA, charges he strongly denies.
The U.N. report said that political power is exercised on the basis of personal relationships, leaving Afghans “subject to the fickle and shifting allegiances of patronage politics.”
“Corrupt practices are entrenched and resented but even the poor, where they can, will provide bribes to get a service, furthering a high level corruption that, given a weak judiciary and few effective oversight mechanisms, remain unpunished.”
The 26-page report is based on the results of a survey conducted in 14 provinces, interviews with officials and community leaders as well as research by groups including Oxfam.
Many communities believe, rightly or wrongly, that food aid had been either embezzled or diverted elsewhere, it found.
“In addition, many Afghans perceive international actors as primarily interested in short-term objectives rather than challenging entrenched and abusive power structures,” it said.
(Additional reporting by Peter Graff in Kabul; Editing by Dominic Evans)
Reuters | Wed, March 31, 2010