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What Afghanistan can learn from the Taliban

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Consider this: baksheesh amounting to a few million dollars in cash, has been used to keep several former mujahideen commanders from attacking United States forces in key areas. The US military gives Viagra in exchange for intelligence information.

From buying land to renewing visas, to side-stepping taxes, the legal process can be nearly impossible without those handy paper pictures of Benjamin Franklin. Turning a blind eye is an important income-generator.

Would granting higher salaries to government employees reduce demands for this type of baksheesh? Sure. But a lasting solution would have to address two major problems: first, the government's lack of transparency, and second, the lack of checks and balances in the rule of law. Both are complicated by Afghanistan's tribal system, and the fact that attitudes we might call "cronyism" or "nepotism," might be considered "honorable" by an Afghan.

A single baksheesh results in gains for many individuals beyond the one who asks for the payment. These outlying beneficiaries are often close friends and family members. With these networks to support them, officials are more likely to demand baksheesh – and less likely to be punished for doing so.

Meanwhile, the Karzai administration asks international organizations and foreign militaries to provide the social services it should be offering. The Afghan government is little more than a fragile image propped up by the US military, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and international partners. It has offices and ministries, positions, titles, and payrolls – all of which look good on paper, for democracy fabrication. But its officers lack the will to actually run anything.

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