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 Afghan anti-corruption watchdog threatens to quit

The Guardian
By Julian Borger,

Hamid Karzai warned corrupt senior officials must be prosecuted to end stalemate in battle with Taliban

The government of President Hamid Karzai has been warned it must start prosecuting corrupt senior Afghan officials. Photo: Shah Marai/AFP

The head of an internationally backed corruption watchdog in Afghanistan has warned that members will resign in protest if the government of President Hamid Karzai does not start prosecuting senior officials.

Speaking in the runup to Monday's Bonn conference on Afghanistan, Drago Kos severely criticised the two Afghan institutions in charge of tackling corruption: the attorney general's office and the high office of oversight (HOO).

"We are not satisfied with their work. If they take the lead, there will be impunity. Nobody is ever brought to court. There are no prosecutions. Cases just stop at the HOO or the police or the attorney general's office. Orally, they support our work, but nothing is done," said Kos. The independent anti-corruption monitoring and evaluation committee was created this year largely at the prompting of the US and British governments, but Kos said so far there had been no prosecutions of top Afghan figures implicated in corruption.

"We will have no problem to leave as soon as possible. If there are no changes, there is no point for us to stay. We are out of here," said Kos, who also chairs the Council of Europe's anti-corruption group.

Ten years ago an agreement in Bonn formally recognised the Karzai government after the fall of the Taliban and marked the formation of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf). A decade on, Karzai is still battling the Taliban and Isaf is due to withdraw its combat forces with no victory in sight. Kos, like many western officials in Kabul, sees endemic corruption as a principal factor in the stalemate. "Corruption is Afghanistan's number one problem. It's not security, not the Taliban. Those are dramatic but corruption affects the lives of all the people. It is felt by everyone."

Last year the country's largest private financial institution, Kabul Bank, virtually collapsed after some $900m in unsecured loans to insiders such as the president's brother, Mahmoud Karzai, and Abdul Haseen Fahim, the brother of vice-president Qasim Fahim. Kos said it: "It was not a bank. It was a Ponzi scheme." So far there have been no prosecutions.

"This government has to prove it is serious. Only way to prove that is by bringing people in top position to court," he said. He criticised the attorney general's strategy of putting the recouping of the lost funds over prosecutions. "We say it is easier to bargain with suspects when your freeze their assets," he said.

The attorney general's office rejected criticism of its investigation of the Kabul Bank, which it said was progressing "normally".

The deputy attorney general, Rahmatullah Nazari, said: "MEC has asked us for a clarification, but it shared the issue with the media before our clarification."

Some western officials suggested it would be impossible, after more than three decades of warfare, to hold the Kabul government to too high a standard, and called on the international community to be realistic in its expectations of the Bonn conference.

A senior US official said: "Success would be an Afghan state that is stable enough to have a minimal level of confidence of its citizens. A state that would be able to secure itself past 2014, on the road to democracy and a decreasing dependence on aid."

The official pointed to a recent national opinion survey by the Asia Foundation which found that 73% of Afghans asked thought the government was doing a good job. More respondents (46%) said the country was moving in the right direction, than said it was moving the wrong way (35%). Among the pessimists, nearly half said security was the main problem, while only 16% cited corruption.

• This article was amended on 7 December 2011. The original said the Afghanistan survey by the Asia Foundation found that 36% of respondents said the country was moving the wrong way. This has been corrected.

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