Round Table Discussion Part II

While sipping my green tea and chewing on some cheap Afghan candy; two more ANA officers came to visit my ANA Sergeant Major.  They exchanged pleasantries with everyone in the room and sat around the SGM’s round table.  He poured them each a cup of chai and then we all started an intellectual debate and conversation over the present and future development of Afghanistan.  When time permits; I really enjoy engaging in these types of conversations because I learn so much from the information exchanged.

One of today’s topics revolved around the inept and corrupt justice system in Afghanistan.  In actuality, there are two justice systems in most of the provinces.  There is the main governmental one and the other one is administered by the shadow Taliban.  Swift and often brutal justice is administered by the Taliban.  The government justice system is perceived as corrupt and decisions easily are swayed by bribing judges and court officials.  Recently I read the local newspaper about a land dispute.  The matter was originally resolved by the Taliban in landowner A’s favor.  But landowner B disagreed with the outcome and took the dispute through the government system and they found in his favor.  Landowner A is alleging B bribed the judge to sway the decision.  I also read an article where a high court judge was asked whether judicial decisions were fair and influenced by bribes.  Not surprising, the judge didn’t directly answer the question, but responded “the government just needs to pay us more money”.  In addition, people in power are basically immune to any prosecution.  The newspapers have been noticeably quiet on the corruption investigations that made the headlines shortly after President Karzai took a firm stance on eradicating government corruption.  Save for the former mayor of Kabul, I haven’t seen any updates.  This platform was also suspiciously absent from the issues addressed at the London Conference.

Our small group also discussed the challenges faced by the new recruits who are uneducated.  The monthly salary being offered to new recruits is slightly less than what the Taliban is paying, but is more honorable.  The problem is low ranking soldiers commonly steal items from the base, vehicles, or equipment and sell them for profit at the local bazaar.  However, the commanders aren’t totally clean either and find ways to make additional money too by using their rank and position.  Or the other big problem being battled is teaching the ANA soldiers to take care of their equipment and vehicles.  It was phrased to me like this:  “If a soldier uses his own money to purchase an item, they will take care of it.  But if the government provides them an item, they do not treat it the same”.  This would explain why their vehicles are routinely damaged or not properly cared for.  Due to lack of training or education, ANA soldiers have been known to pour engine oil into the transmission or power steering reservoir.  But the real kick in the teeth was when they placed the blame on my government for supplying an endless supply of replacements.

I listened intently and before interjecting to defend my government, allowed them to finish their statement.  Projecting blame on the US government seems to be a popular held perception.  One common thread is the lack of accountability of the billions of dollars being donated by the US and other foreign nations.  The Afghan government is being given billions of dollars to support the ANA, ANP, and other governmental institutions.  However, it is alleged, much of this money is being siphoned off as consulting fees, contracting fees, bribes, subcontracting and the cost of doing business, etc.  This money is then used by the people in power to live a lavish lifestyle.  The problem arises when the villages outside of the capital city do not benefit from this infusion of aid.  Sure some of it trickles down, but the majority of it is expended elsewhere.  I was a bit stumped on how to argue my position, because my mind kept drifting off and referring to a NY Times article I read about the congressional Black Caucus in the US.  Formed as a philanthropic organization, they spent more money for conferences and other expenses than they did in providing college scholarships.  The difference being in the United States, this is perfectly legal.  But in Afghanistan, they don’t have Political Action Committees or lobbyists.  Instead, they have nepotism and tribal alliances that are enriched by their relationships to the people in power.

At one point in our friendly exchange, I was asked point blank, “What can we do, what is the solution?”.  Suddenly all of the eyes in the room were focused on me.  They were honestly looking at me to provide a resolution to their country’s problems.  I had to come up with something and perhaps my high school years of competing in National Forensic League (Speech and Debate) had prepared me for an educated rebuttal.  But not today, this was a question to be solely answered by the Afghan citizens.  But I did interject that one of the keys lies in educating the children and the Afghan people.  The various ANA battalions and brigades realize the importance of education and offer literacy training to the soldiers.  So it’s important they attend these classes and by working together, maybe they can slowly overcome their tribal biases. The ANA SGM is firm about his soldiers attending these classes too.   In addition, since the Taliban was removed from power, thousands of schools have reopened and the children are being educated.  These same children are tomorrow’s leaders.  I don’t know if this was an adequate response, but it seemed to provide a glimmer of hope.

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  1. […] the original here: Round Table Discussion Part II « Afghanistan My Last Tour Share and […]

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