ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Fifteen years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan with billions of dollars spent and thousands of American lives lost, the country remains profoundly corrupt. That's the finding of a new assessment by the group Transparency International with Integrity Watch Afghanistan. The group calls this report the first ever comprehensive assessment of Afghanistan's capacity to fight corruption. Sayed Ikram Afzali is the executive director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan and joins us from London. Welcome to the show.
SAYED IKRAM AFZALI: Thank you very much.
SHAPIRO: This report documents widespread systemic corruption through so many different parts of society, but can you just give us a specific example of how corruption comes up in the day-to-day life of an average person?
AFZALI: People have to face corruption in many different forms. When they go to a school to admit their child, they have to pay a bribe. When they have to go to a hospital, they are asked to pay bribes. And people, when they have to go to courts because they have issues to be resolved, they have to pay a bribe to the judge. They have to pay a bribe to the prosecutors, to the police. People have to experience corruption on daily basis in many different forms when they have to go to different institutions to access services.
SHAPIRO: And is this something that was true long before the U.S. invasion? Is it something that's just become a lot worse lately? How far back does this go?
AFZALI: Corruption has been there before the U.S. as well, but it's a matter of the amount of money that was poured into the country without really thinking the negative consequences of putting money into institutions without ensuring that there is strong leadership and commitment to fight corruption and to provide services to the public.
SHAPIRO: What do you think the U.S. should've done differently in the last 15 years to keep that from happening?
AFZALI: I think the first thing which was done wrongly was to pick people who had very bad reputation, who had committed crimes in the past, who were - who misuse power. And the people who captured the institutions - they were - had no commitment to build institutions, yet the same people were given the opportunity to misuse power. So this was a big mistake on the part of the international community, especially the U.S.
SHAPIRO: And now that we are in 2016 and all of these powerful people have all of this financial gain from a corrupt system, how do you persuade all of the judges and the prosecutors and the lawmakers who are making a lot of money off of these bribes, getting themselves and their friends out of prison, that they should scrap that system and go to a system where powerful people are held accountable, can be put in jail, can't buy their way out of a court case?
AFZALI: I strongly believe that we can fight corruption if there is a strong political will. And if there is no political will, then there is no hope. But with strong political will and a top-down approach of putting in place strong leaders and independent institutions and letting those institutions do their job without political interference, things can be changed.
SHAPIRO: Is there any country you see as a model that did this successfully?
AFZALI: There are many countries in the world who have done it - Singapore, Hong Kong, even the example of Indonesia. They have been able to create independent institutions and give away power to these institutions so that they can follow corruption cases and prosecute people. And this can be done in Afghanistan as well.
SHAPIRO: Sayed Ikram Afzali is the executive director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan. Thank you for joining us.
AFZALI: Thank you for having me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.