Corruption Undermines Afghan Self-Governance In western Afghanistan, U.S. Special Forces are working to help villages govern themselves; that includes helping them fight corruption. A recent example, in which local officials are complicit in kidnappings and ransom demands, illustrates the challenges they face.
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Corruption Undermines Afghan Self-Governance

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Corruption Undermines Afghan Self-Governance

Corruption Undermines Afghan Self-Governance

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

We begin this hour in Afghanistan. We're going to hear about the results of a Pentagon review into military airstrikes that killed Afghan civilians last month. The investigation has found lives could have been spared if rules for airstrikes had been followed.

BLOCK: First though to one of the most serious problems the Afghan people face on daily basis and that's corruption. It comes in many forms - a piece of land for a warlord with connections to the government, a bribe to a customs agent to look the other way as a shipment of heroin passes through.

NPR's Tom Bowman brings us a story from Western Afghanistan. It's a tale of kidnappings, demands for ransom and bodies left out in the hills — all with the help of Afghan officials.

(Soundbite of motor vehicle)

TOM BOWMAN: On a short notice, a green beret team has been called to a meeting, known as a shura, at a village school. A long, snaking line of cars and minivans rolls in, kicking up plumes of dust. Tribal elders, 150 of them, pour out of the vehicles. They are dressed in turbans and robes. Most have long white beards.

(Soundbite of crowd)

BOWMAN: They surround an American soldier - he has a thick beard, too. The Afghans know him well. They call him Mullah Jamal(ph). Like other Green Berets on sensitive missions, he asked that his real name not be used.

Mr. MULLAH JAMAL (Green Beret, US Army): (unintelligible) matter of time. (unintelligible) let's go.

(Soundbite of crowd)

BOWMAN: They all move inside to the school auditorium with its whitewashed walls and broken windows.

Mr. JAMAL: Is this everybody in here?

BOWMAN: An elder stands in the front. He begins to addresses the Americans. Through a translator, he complains about kidnappings.

Unidentified Man #1: (Through Translator) They kidnap our people, I mean they kidnap my people just for reason.

BOWMAN: Mullah Jamal, the American Green Beret breaks in.

Mr. JAMAL: Is this in concern to what just recently happened with the guy who owned a gas station in (unintelligible)?

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

BOWMAN: Moah Adam(ph), that guy. It is the gas station owner they were talking about - a wealthy man in this poor society. Here's the twist - one person involved in the kidnapping is the subgovernor of Herat province — the number two official in the area.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

BOWMAN: The elder says that kidnappings are a fact of life. What makes this one all the more painful is that the government official who should be helping them is part of the problem. That's not news to the soldier known as Mullah Jamal, the green beret's intelligence officer. He's a burly 24-year-old Arab-American, who studied economics at the University of Arizona.

Mr. JAMAL: I understand that, I understand all that. And I notice, I promise you, I notice. I know a lot of things that he's doing that he shouldn't be doing.

BOWMAN: The elders and the Americans say the deputy governor is a former Taliban commander who is still in touch with his old comrades. His brother is directly involved in the kidnapping ring. In the middle of the meeting, one of the elders pulls out a cell phone. He puts it on speaker and calls the kidnapper — a notorious criminal named Noor Adin(ph). For more than a month, he's held the gas station owner, demanding $20,000 in ransom.

Mr. NOOR ADIN: (Foreign language spoken)

BOWMAN: The kidnapper says the deadline is today. Suddenly, a stocky, younger man rises from his chair. He calls out and begins to cry, wiping away tears and stumbling toward the Americans. The elders coax him back to his seat, where he slumps over and weeps. I ask him through a translator what he heard that was so upsetting.

Unidentified Man #2: (through translator) If we don't pay money today he - they will kill him.

BOWMAN: Was that his brother (unintelligible)?

Unidentified Man #2: (through translator) (unintelligible) his brother (unintelligible).

BOWMAN: What is his brother's name?

Unidentified Man #2: (through translator) Niak Maad(ph).

BOWMAN: It's no idle threat. The elders say this ring has carried out more than two dozen kidnappings. Some families who don't pay get another cell phone call, telling them where to pick up the bodies of their loved ones. The Americans promise they will help, that they will contact the deputy governor. That's almost the easy part. The harder part involves building a better government — that's what the green beret team leader tells the elders.

Unidentified Man #3: I understand, I understand that your family gets kidnapped. I understand you want results quickly. It may fix your one problem but the way you fix this is by fixing the government. If the subgovernor's broken, then we can fix it. And again it's hard, it's a lengthy process, but it's the right way to do things for your country.

BOWMAN: Call this a civics lesson. Americans helping Afghans understand how government is supposed to work. The captain says this is done by voting, by putting names on petitions, by demanding action. What these tribal leaders are living is called lack of governance in Washington jargon, that's a key obstacle to success in Afghanistan. The elders say they have appealed to the governor, the police chief and others. If the Americans can't help, they say, they may take matters into their own hands - pick up a gun and seek revenge.

Mr. JAMAL: No, no here's a deal. Doing something like that would be a step behind what we're trying to get to, all right?

BOWMAN: So, Mullah Jamal, the Green Beret, appeals to them. He asks for two days time to sort the kidnapping out. The elders say they're willing to give the Americans a chance and file out of the auditorium.

(Soundbite of crowd)

(Soundbite of vehicle)

BOWMAN: Two days pass. We're at a nearby village. The Special Forces team has already contacted the subgovernor. They were told that the gas station owner is still alive.

(Soundbite of vehicle)

BOWMAN: And now, the green berets, including the soldier they called Mullah Jamal, drive off in their all-terrain vehicles to pay a visit on the kidnapper himself. He lives nearby. A half-hour later they return, empty-handed but optimistic.

Mr. JAMAL: I mean just by virtue of us being interested, it does go a long way.

BOWMAN: He feels like he's making progress, but just on this one case.

Mr. JAMAL: You guys haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg. There's probably five or six other kidnappings in Shindand district. Do we know about them? No, the only reason why we know about this is because it's directly linked to the subgovernor. And so that's the only reason why it's been brought to our attention.

BOWMAN: We contacted the subgovernor. His name is Mullah Lal Muhammad(ph). In a hasty phone call, he would only say he was trying to get the gas station owner released. Then he turned off his phone. Later that same night, the gas station owner was released, unharmed, without incident, according to an email we got from the green beret team. That one problem was solved, but the larger issue in Afghanistan remains, call it a lack of governance.

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