“The discussion on corruption, in essence, is really a discussion about our relationship with Karzai,” said one senior Obama administration official.The piece is about whether to make Karzai a more central player in the anti-corruption effort in Afghanistan since the government's popularity and legitimacy, not to mention the counter-insurgency war, hangs on the issue of corruption. The question is really to how to appear to be fighting corruption while leaving Karzai and his major supporters in place or try to be sincere and end up fighting Karzai.
The reason that the US and its allies have struggled over this issue is that there are, once again, no good options. Just like in The Wire, following the money will lead into dangerous places, so the folks higher up will often choose not to follow the money. Giving Karzai more power over anti-corruption will be a significant choice--for sovereignty, for his domestic political survival, but at the expense of a real effort to fight corruption. Do the people of Afghanistan care? Probably. But perhaps they do care more about the local delivery of services, like electricity and garbage pickup than the kickbacks.
Perhaps we are missing the point--can we develop better public services while there are still shenanigans behind the scenes? If we end the most visible and most endangering abuses of power, then perhaps we can let the money flow? Again, I have asked Canadian military types to include in their surveys questions about which forms of corruption are most galling. But I don't have access to the surveys or the results.
But giving Karzai keys to the process may not help either the delivery of services or the perception problem that does abet the Taliban.