NPR reporter Sarah Chayes quit her job in 2002 to run an aid organization in Afghanistan and has been living there ever since. In her book, Thieves of State, which came out earlier this year, she writes that in that country, as in others, “a corrupt system not only reinforced that system by helping to fund it but also inflamed the feelings of injustice that were driving people toward the insurgency.”
This weekend, she talked with Ryan Grim, The Huffington Post‘s Washington bureau chief, about what’s been happening both in Afghanistan and, more specifically, in Kunduz, the site of the tragic American aerial attack that killed 22 at the Doctors Without Borders hospital over the weekend. Grim writes that “the Taliban has since charged that Afghan intelligence purposely gave the U.S. the hospital’s coordinates.” (U.S. General John Campbell, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said today that, “Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from US forces.”)
Even the possibility that such an accusation is true — and the duration of the sustained attack suggests that something unusual happened — points toward the reason that Afghanistan is headed back toward Taliban control: The government is thoroughly corrupt, and the U.S. has been unwilling to take measures to address the situation.
In the interview, entitled “Why Afghanistan Is Going To Fall To The Taliban Again. And It’s Not Why You Think,” Sarah Chayes tells Grim that extortion, theft and other types of corruption have steadily eroded the Afghan people’s trust in their government.
In an arid place like Afghanistan, almost entirely dependent on high-end agriculture, fruit growing and such, land is incredibly precious. Stealing someone’s land is worse than murdering them. The German military had responsibility for the province, and the intelligence chief’s assessment was “everyone around him is corrupt.” That was six and a half years ago, and nothing changed in the interim. Years of built-up grievances and no avenue of recourse drive people to extremes. We’ve been seeing that in the U.S. lately; we shouldn’t be surprised to see it — even if in different forms — in Afghanistan.
Her depressing conclusion is that as the Taliban gains ground in Kunduz and elsewhere in Afghanistan, there is nothing that can be done. She says, “I’m afraid I don’t see how the U.S. can helpfully respond in Afghanistan, at this point.” Read more of her cogent analysis at The Huffington Post.
In this 2008 interview on Bill Moyers Journal, a more hopeful Chayes talked with Bill about how she’s been helping Afghanistan rebuild after Taliban rule.