As he nears his first anniversary in office, Afghanistan’s president faces daunting challenges on every front, from a deteriorating economy and political infighting to a wave of bomb attacks that continue to terrorize the country’s capital.
Among these challenges, Ashraf Ghani singled out corruption as an equally dangerous threat to his nation at a gathering in Kabul on Tuesday. He called graft a “cancerous lesion” that “threatens the very being of a nation.”
His solution: A “national jihad,” or holy war, against corruption. He said he intends to make this one of the government’s primary battles, noting that Afghans pay several billion dollars in bribes each year.
Last year, Transparency International ranked Afghanistan 172nd out of 175 countries in its “Corruption Perceptions Index.” The ranking is based on surveys filled out by experts and business, according to the organization.
Experts argue that high levels of corruption have hindered the international community’s ability to stabilize Afghanistan over the past decade. More recently, corruption has added further instability to the central authority’s fragile governance.
“Regrettably, corruption is no longer considered taboo in Afghan society; it has been ingrained in the culture as an accepted norm,” Haroun Mir, the founder of Afghanistan’s Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS), wrote in an op-ed for Al Jazeera in June. “Therefore, a multifaceted approach will be required to curb and control it.”
Ghani said his government is already undertaking some “fundamental measures” to reduce corruption, noting that 28 contracting projects have recently been rejected for failing to comply with Afghanistan’s public procurement law. The law, which went into effect in 2008, dictates how contracts are approved and public funds are disbursed.
“One of the main causes of corruption is contracting done without compliance with the law,” he said, citing land grabbing and narcotics production as other major causes of corruption.
Because the majority of Afghans live off the land, the president said the government is also investing in agriculture. The goal, he said, is to make Afghanistan – consistently ranked among the world’s largest exporters of heroin – known worldwide as an exporter of legal goods.
Ghani said education is the key to winning the war against corruption.