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In Afghanistan war, government corruption bigger threat than Taliban

Warlords and government corruption may destabilize the country even more than the Taliban, say Afghan and NATO officials. The city of Kandahar reflects this central problem of the Afghanistan war.

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Over the past month in Kandahar City, Taliban death squads have killed dozens of people in drive-by shootings. Yet many living in this southern Afghan city say the insurgents are the least of their worries. Far more pernicious is the murky nexus of warlords and corrupt government officials whose rule some compare to mob bosses.

Indeed, the fear and corruption they perpetuate undermine efforts to build a stable government and help the Taliban win support among locals, say Afghan and NATO officials, private citizens, analysts, and local journalists. The trend echoes a pattern from the 1990s, when violence among competing warlords gave rise to the Taliban and their brutal ways of imposing law and order.

The concern was repeated in more than a dozen recent interviews: The biggest problem is not the Taliban; it is the gangster oligarchs looming over the city.

When it comes to Kandahar city politics, “I’m not sure whether I’m watching Godfather Part 2 or Godfather Part 3,” says Mark Sedwill, NATO’s top civilian official in Afghanistan, referring to the popular movie series about an American mafia family. “It’s very difficult to untangle, but what’s really fueling the insurgency is groups being disenfranchised, feeling oppressed by the institutions of state and criminal syndicates.”

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