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Book review: Thieves of State – Why Corruption Threatens Global Security March 27, 2015

Posted by nishankmotwani in : Afghanistan, Guest authors , comments closed

Mark Beeson

Once in a while, a book comes along that forces you to rethink some basic assumptions. I had come to believe that corruption didn’t really matter that much because economic growth seemed to happen anyway.

In some circumstances, it seemed corruption might even have a functional purpose. China was the quintessential exemplar of this possibility. Having read Thieves of State – Why Corruption Threatens Global Security by Sarah Chayes, I can now see how complacent and ill-informed some of those assumptions actually were.

Under former president Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan was little more than a ‘vertically integrated criminal organisation’, according to a new book. EPA/Parwiz Sabawoon

Under former president Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan was little more than a ‘vertically integrated criminal organisation’, according to a new book. EPA/Parwiz Sabawoon

Thieves of State has two great merits over and above its important central thesis about why corruption threatens global security. First, much of the analysis is based on first-hand observations of the pernicious impact of corruption in pivotally important states such as Afghanistan.

Second, Chayes writes with a journalistic eye for detail that enlivens what might otherwise be a worthy but unread scholarly treatise. The book ought to be read and Chayes’ accessible prose ensures it will be.

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Afghanistan: conundrum central February 8, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Afghanistan, Snedden, Christopher , comments closed

Christopher Snedden

Afghanistan provokes many conundrums, but few answers. The most important current question is whether external forces can defeat the Islamically-motivated Afghan Taliban trying to regain control of their fragmented, underdeveloped and war-weary country? Policy makers and military strategists from 48 foreign nations believe so. Accordingly, they have ‘surged’ their International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to 132,000 personnel. And, since President Obama came to power, ISAF—particularly its United States’ component of 90,000 personnel—has been better focused and may be gaining ground.

However, a significant conundrum is to determine the actual ‘state of play’ in Afghanistan. The Taliban, about which we know little, almost certainly overstates its strength and position. Equally, official Western sources may paint a picture rosier than reality. On 3 December, at Bagram Air Base, President Obama stated that ‘Because of the progress we’re making, we look forward to a new phase next year [2011], the beginning of the transition to Afghan responsibility’. This suggested that operations were going well. By contrast, on 26 December, the Wall Street Journal reported that United Nations’ maps showed ‘a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan’ during 2010. Much of southern Afghanistan was still at ‘very high risk’, while the risk in previously ‘low risk’ areas in northern, central and western Afghanistan had increased ‘considerably’. Similarly, in January, a ‘NATO official’ estimated there were ‘up to 25,000’ insurgent fighters, ‘the same as a year ago, before the arrival of an additional 40,000 US and allied troops’. ISAF may not be doing as well as we are led to believe.

President Obama’s remark above about ‘the transition to Afghan responsibility’ also confirmed that ISAF is keen to extract itself from Afghanistan. Accordingly, ISAF is trying to develop the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police so they can take responsibility for Afghanistan’s security. This task is difficult. Low education levels, high attrition rates and Taliban intimidation make these forces’ capabilities questionable. Equally, ISAF needs to succeed in other nation-building activities—which, in a dilemma, it cannot do until it has secured and stabilised the country. These activities include: developing Afghanistan’s economy; enhancing its political and governmental structures; overcoming people’s deep fear of a Taliban takeover after ISAF’s inevitable withdrawal; reducing corruption; and, delivering meaningful aid and infrastructure throughout the country.

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