For many Afghans, the problem isn't corruption itself, but rather the sense that corrupt officials have ruined the country's best chance at rebuilding by siphoning off vast amounts of the money the US has spent here over the past decade. No paper trail exists, but Afghans can see where the funds have gone – and haven't.
In rich neighborhoods like Shirpoor and Wazir Akbar Khan, the politically well-connected live in glittery mansions, while the streets in front of these opulent homes remain unpaved. Hospitals have been built, but doctors are often off running lucrative private clinics. Schools have been erected, but many teachers don't show up for work because they are paid so little. Cabinet ministers have been linked to major drug scandals or bank collapses, but none have been charged with any crime.
The problem, says Yama Torabi, head of Integrity Afghanistan, an anticorruption watchdog group, is that Afghanistan's Western donors have a political incentive to support the Afghan government and show results for the billions of dollars that they spend. But for security reasons, Western donors are often unable to monitor how the aid groups and government agencies spend the funds. So much of it is simply pocketed by corrupt officials.
"Last year, when the USAID [US Agency for International Development] budget for Afghanistan was cut by 40 percent, that was good news for us," says Mr. Torabi. "The money created public corruption. The donors have to spend billions to develop this country, and they don't have the capability of overseeing how the money is spent. If there was less aid and more oversight, people would use it better."
Najib Manalai, an independent political analyst who is often sympathetic to the Karzai government, believes it's wrong to assume that the Afghan government has done nothing with the billions in foreign aid money it has received. Eight million children are now in public schools. Some 44,000 students have been accepted by universities. Maternal and infant mortality rates are dropping because of the 15,000 clinics that have been built. More than 12,000 miles of roads have been created.