The role of Foreigners in Afghan Corruption


Corruption is one of the major challenges faced by the Afghan government and people. The Afghans themselves and international community have also criticized the government due to the failure to tackle corruption in the past one and half decade, however, Afghanistan remains as one of the most corrupt country in the world

In an interview with BBC, head of SIGAR John Sopko has said that corruption is not confined to Afghans but people who work for American government are also involved in it and until now, they have tried hundreds of them in trial. Confirming SIGAR’s reports head of High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption has also announced that foreigners are involved in promoting and expanding corruption in Afghanistan.

It comes at a time that Afghanistan is under immense pressure by international community to put serious efforts to fight against corruption, even in the recent meeting of NATO’s foreign ministers in Brussels, NATO’s Secretary General announced that this organization’s support from Afghanistan is linked to the Afghan government’s fight against corruption.

Here we will study foreigners’ involvement in corruption in Afghanistan and the efforts to prevent this aspect of corruption.


Why we are the most corrupt country?

One and a half decades ago when foreign troops came to Afghanistan and a new government was formed, international community’s aid for Afghanistan’s reconstruction was also injected into the economy. Injection of billions of dollars without accountability and transparency promoted and expanded corruption in Afghanistan and gradually corruption reached to a rate that, in the reports of international institutions, this country was called to be the most corrupt country in the world.

Afghanistan ranked the first most corrupt country in the world while several anti-corruption institutions were active in Afghanistan and the Afghan government and international community spent millions of dollars in fight against this phenomenon but these efforts did not have desirable outcomes.

The main reasons that, despite anti-corruption efforts, corruption is increasing annually, are: poor management, lack of political will to eradicate corruption, mafia and powerful peoples’ support from corrupt officials, supporting corrupt officials on the basis of tribe, language and region, lack of transparent accountability, lack of coordination between anti-corruption institutions, impunity of the perpetrators of corruption and corruption in anti-corruption institutions particularly in judicial system. In addition, foreigners have also played a significant role in corruption, while international community paid lesser attention to this aspect.


Foreigners and corruption in Afghanistan

There are domestic and foreign factors behind the rise of corruption in Afghanistan; however, foreign factors overwhelm the domestic factors.. Though, it is often the western countries, particularly the donors, who raises corruption issue, but these countries themselves plays a facilitator role in expanding corruption by directly spending financial aids and giving major contracts without Afghan government’s consent.  These major contracts were given either to government officials or to their relatives.

Even from the beginning, people believed that foreigners particularly the Americans plays a key role in corruption in Afghanistan, but it was during Karzai’s second term that the former Afghan President officially accepted foreigners’ involvement in corruption and criticized them for it. Karzai had directly criticized Americans for the rise of corruption in Afghanistan.

In Jawza 1392 (2013-2014), governor of Balkh province Atta Mohammad Noor said that the President’s remarks about foreigners’ involvement in corruption were accurate and that only in Balk province their corruption exceeds ten and hundred millions of dollars. He added that he had some example of these corruptions.

Based on the statistics of the United States, Washington has spent more than hundred billion dollars for Afghanistan’s reconstruction, but the Americans are criticized for spending the large bulk of money by themselves and spending it on non-infrastructural projects.

After 2012, SIGAR have released shocking reports about US’s aids being spent for personal purposes, but recently in an interview with BBC, John Sopko has accepted that foreigners particularly Americans are involved in corruption in Afghanistan. He has said that his administration have been able to regain $2bn dollars that were spent for individuals’ interests during the reconstruction of Afghanistan and added that SIGAR have introduced more than hundred Americans, who were involved in corruption in Afghanistan, to judicial organs and most of them are convicted [1].

Although there is no study about the level of foreigners involvement in corruption in Afghanistan but they are certainly involved in corruption.


Instances of foreigners’ corruption

  • Corruption in major contracts: one of the reasons why international community’s contributions to Afghanistan were not befittingly spent was corruption in major contracts that were signed by foreigners themselves. For instance, the American soldier Robert Greene who was sentenced to 10 years prison time in December 2015 had given the contract of 40 projects with a value of $3m to an Afghan businessman (Hekmatullah Shadman) against 140000 dollars in bribe [2]. There may have been dozen other Americans who might have received great amounts of money as bribe, because while being investigated Robert Greene had said that he did it after he was informed that other soldiers had also received money in bribe from this businessman.

In September 2011, the Afghan Minister of Finance Omar Zakhilwal said that from $57bn financial aids to Afghanistan, only 18% is spent through Afghanistan’s National Budget, and Afghanistan cannot be held accountable for the remaining amount of money that are spent by foreigners. In March 2013, Minister of Finance had said that most of the financial aids to Afghanistan make their way out of Afghanistan after being spent by foreigners.

  • Private security companies: with foreigners’ presence in Afghanistan and formation of a new government, dozens of private security companies were also activated in Afghanistan. Apparently, these companies were for the security of foreign trainers of the Afghan forces, Embassies, logistical convoys of foreign forces and internal and foreign private companies. But due to lack of oversight, beside other destructive activities, these companies were involved in corruption as well. For instance, these companies paid the government’s armed oppositions in order to transport logistical convoys through highways.

Activities of these companies led the Afghan President Hamid Karzai to issue a decree to revoke all the private internal and foreign security companies, Karzai termed them against Afghanistan’s national interests. He believed that these companies were the main sources of corruption in the country[3].

  • Spending money in non-infrastructural projects: despite the vast amount of international community’s aids, Afghanistan is still in worst economic situation and these aids were not spent for infrastructural projects. Americans spent billions of dollars in projects that did not have long term and sustainable benefits to Afghanistan. For instance, a diesel power plant in Kandahar was funded by US’s aids to Afghanistan while nothing was done for the construction of Kajaki Dam’s turbines. While if they had spent this money on Kajaki Dam, Kandahar and neighboring provinces would have had sustainable electricity for now.

In another example, SIGAR has revealed that $34m was spent by the US army in Helmand for the construction of a base that there would have been no need for it after 2014 and this base is still under construction.


Struggle against foreigners’ corruption

Even from the beginning, foreign troops were involved in corruption in Afghanistan, but the Afghan government did not pay attention to it till the second term of Karzai’s presidency. Foreign troops spent exorbitant amounts in remote areas far from the Afghan government’s oversight.

For the first time in December 2010, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai accepted that besides Afghan officials, foreigners are also involved in corruption in Afghanistan[4]. The Afghan government had suggested foreign aids to be spent by the Afghan government as a solution which was, to some extents, accepted in 2012 Tokyo Conference where the participants decided the 50% of the aids to be spent by the Afghan government.

The Afghan government had also termed private security companies as sources of corruption and had also issued a decree to revoke these companies in order to prevent their illegal activities. However, this step was held with delay and it was not implemented sooner and took a long time.

Another effort in this regard was creation of SIGAR by the United States government. SIGAR was created in 2012 with a motive to prevent corruption and overseas US’s financial aids in Afghanistan. Although this institution has revealed major cases of corruption in Afghanistan since its formation, but other political agenda’s seems to be in its reports as well. Recently, this institution officially accepted that Americans played a key role in corruption in Afghanistan and some Americans were also tried in courts. SIGAR has also said that $70m that were stolen from US’s contracts in Afghanistan was regained in America and Europe.

Despite all these, the issue of foreigners’ involvement in corruption in Afghanistan is yet to be paid attention by the Afghan government and international community. Foreigners have been practically involved in corruption in Afghanistan and this issue requires serious attentions of the Afghan government and international community.

The end


[1] Read BBC’s report on foreigners’ involvement in corruption in Afghanistan here:

[2] “Afghanistan in the past one and a half decades”, CSRS’s analytical report on the situation of Afghanistan in the past one decade and half. 1395 (2016-2017)

[3] Read this report about Karzai’s decree to revoke private security companies in the country:

[4] Read Radio Azadi’s report on Karzai’s stance against corruption here:

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