Thursday, August 6, 2009

I could choke that Tarkin bastard

Says Kilo, amusingly, in the comments:
If it turns out that tackling corruption/trafficking in Afg is a requirement to a stable state with a viable govt (and I don't know that it is), well I'd expect to see the USS Death Star brought to bear on that problem sometime in 2150.
I want to dispute the parenthetical aside, though: I think tackling those things is a requirement for the simple reason that corruption is a major driver of the insurgency. It constrains the ability of the government to deliver the sort of justice that Afghans yearn for -- hell, more than justice, it may just be predictability. As a number of people have said lately, at least with the Taliban, you knew what you were getting; it sucked, but it was predictable.

You may have a stable state with a viable government (and that might even be the Taliban), but it seems to me that without some sort of security from the government, you're still gonna end up dealing with disaffected populations. And in a place where it's nearly impossible to extend the writ of government and the rule of law very far beyond the major population centers, and where there's a fighting tradition, a lot of those disaffected populations are going to be armed and violent. So then we're back where we started with an insurgency. (Only this time, maybe we don't have to counter it.)


  1. Maybe one wouldn't have this problem if one changed the colonial borders to reflect the sort of ethnographic organization within these "states."

    Security would then follow. Well, at least as far as that part goes.


  2. We've experimented with empowering warlords...that was a bad idea. Empowering the state will only go so far for the reasons stated above.

    Why not reinforce tribal structures, and rely on tribal elders? My understanding is that the tribal order has undergone a substantial amount of damage during the past generation of warfare, Taliban influence, and AQ infiltration. Unless I am misinformed, tribal elders seem to be held accountable with a little more regularity than regional governors. This might at least bring some element of predictability.

  3. But corrupt governments are not necessarily unstable in other parts of the world. Indeed, some of the governments who perhaps define stable governance display corrupt behaviour -- and yet the globe continues to turn. What is the nature of Afghan corruption that makes it so much worse than Chinese corruption or Brazilian corruption or British corruption? Is it just that there is more of it?

  4. What is the nature of Afghan corruption that makes it so much worse than Chinese corruption or Brazilian corruption or British corruption? Is it just that there is more of it?

    This might be a simplistic answer, and I'm not trying to be glib, but: what makes it worse is that it seems to be the fundamental driver of the insurgency.

    Whatever the specifics, the Chinese and Brazilian governments seem to be providing enough to their citizens -- whether that's services or simply the opportunity to live a reasonably secure and hopeful life, something that obviously can't be said for a great many people, but perhaps can for enough -- in spite of corruption. So if "corruption" does not equal instability, but "corruption + 1" does, then it's the +1 that matters. Or the internal dynamics of the state that allow corruption to destablize it.

    So sure, maybe you can eliminate the insurgency without eliminating corruption. Does anybody have any good ideas about how?

  5. "what makes it worse is that it seems to be the fundamental driver of the insurgency."

    How so -- could you be more specific?

  6. I think one major difference is that in China, Brazil, the UK, France, the US and elsewhere, corruption is not met with systematic impunity.

    People get executed in China for being corrupt and they get tried in Brazil. Sure, the detention conditions aren't great and we'd rather people not get executed for corruption but judicial accountability exists.

    In these countries (and in ours) not everyone gets caught, tried, and if appropriate punished but there's a least the possibility that they might. The population also knows that different types of corruption lead to different types of punishment.

    Finally, in the countries you're talking about there's also protection for people who report it. Whistle-blower protection is crucial to creating an environment where people feel at least somewhat secure reporting bad behavior. Again, it's one step towards stopping impunity.

  7. How so -- could you be more specific?

    Well, I can try, but I'm not sure how successful I'll be.

    For one thing, a massive amount of development aid that goes into the country gets funneled to the insurgency. How does that happen?

    Beyond that concrete problem, I think a big reason that a lot of people refuse to support the government is the fundamental failure to provide justice and predictability. I don't have data on this, though I understand the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit has done some polling. (I know that this doesn't speak directly to corruption, per se, but general governmental incompetence that is often aggravated or amplified by corruption.)

    Something Kilcullen mentioned yesterday is that the writ of government, or amount of territory that the government can access, isn't really te important indicator; rather, we should be looking at who the population goes to for justice and restitution. If the police in your neighborhood beat the hell out of you for bothering them when you try to report a crime, and the Taliban track down the guy who stole your goat and lash him, who are you going to come out of that supporting? I don't know if that's a matter of "corruption," but it's certainly a matter of competence.

    Lil is much better on this stuff than I am, though (and so is MK), so listen to them.

  8. vimothy--I'm afraid I also don't have Afghanistan specific data on this since most of the work I've done has focused on what corruption looks like in conflict states in general and what are good ways to fight it.

    Corruption, the abuse of entrusted office for illegitimate private gain, can take many forms. I think Gulliver is right to label what he describes as incompetence and impunity.

    Corruption would have occurred if the cops had told the villager that it would cost X to retrieve the goat. Now there could be different layers to that: the cop may not be paid at all and could just be pocketing the cash, basically as a fee for the service. Or the cop may not be paid enough to support his family and could view charging this fee as a way of supplementing income. Or, at worst, the cop may simply figure that this is a logical way to increase income and he can get away with it so why not take advantage.

    In other cases, the cop may be turning part of the money over to the commander for the privilege of being in charge of retrieving goats. If that's a big enough problem and there's a predictable amount of cash to be made from retrieving goats then there could even be a going rate for being the goat retriever, the cop at road block Z, etc. When that's the case, the cops have incentives for creating conditions under which they can collect enough from the population so that they can keep the commander happy and make sure he doesn't give the job to someone he thinks will be better at collecting the cash. Of course, there may be a going rate for being district police commander and an obligation to the province commander and so on all the way up the chain (the corruption literature calls that state capture).

    I think in cases where the fee is predictable (no matter how much the cop pockets) and you don't get beaten up for asking for help and you're willing to pay, that's something like Indonesia under Suharto. It's a problem but because there's some predictability and you get your goat back, there's a certain order to that. Of course there are abuses but they're rather more predictable than not.

    In cases where you're able to somehow convey that you had to pay more than the normal rate and the person gets reprimanded or you get some sort of restitution, like I said, that's corruption but if it's perceived as a fee for service, that's probably not as problematic.

    That perception changes for people when they pay the fee and the cop turns around and says never mind, I got the goat but if you want me to give it back to you, you have to give me more as well. When that happens and the people perceive that as unfair and abuse of power, that's when they might start going to somewhere else for restitution.

    My impression--and I could be completely wrong--is that in Afghanistan, corruption occurs because the cops either don't get paid enough or not at all. There's also a going rate for certain offices and that creates predatory behavior that people resent.