Warlords and criminals rife in a city weary of corruption
The war in Afghanistan sparked by the 9/11 attacks on the US is 11 years old. The UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force is winding down its operations and expects to have almost fully withdrawn by the end of next year. JOHN D McHUGH, in the first of three articles, reports from the capital city of Kabul
EXAMINING THE work on a multimillion-dollar road project, the short man with the neatly trimmed moustache pointed and said: “I can see cracks here.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll plaster over them,” came the reply, without a hint of irony.
That exchange, brief as it was, encapsulates the entire failure of the war in Afghanistan to date: shoddy workmanship, failure to acknowledge the problems and a constant effort to hide mistakes and present an untrue facade.
Kabul is the centre of all power in Afghanistan; the seat of government, the economic hub and the touchstone of security. Whoever controls Kabul controls the country. This is why the Soviets’ opening gambit in their almost 10-year occupation was an attack on the city, and why the Mujahideen fought so hard to dislodge them from it. It is also what led to the brutal fighting in the subsequent civil war that almost destroyed the city.
The man with the neat moustache is Muhammad Yunus Nawandish, the mayor of Kabul. Dubbed “the builder of Kabul” for his work in co-ordinating its reconstruction, he is renowned for arriving unannounced at ongoing projects. To understand what is happening in the city, I spend the day travelling with the mayor. He is surprised because he is a “high-profile target”. Many people want him dead, and his black 4x4 is an inviting target for an improvised explosive device (IED) as it forces its way through the snarled traffic of Kabul’s cratered roads.
The mayor’s biggest battle running the city is not balancing the books, but battling corruption.
“When I became mayor of Kabul I announced a 24-item programme for Kabul city. The first point was fighting against corruption and the land mafia,” he says. This has brought him into conflict with criminals and warlords, many of whom illegally grabbed land, much of it belonging to the city. The mayor is determined to get it back, regardless of the extravagant “poppy palaces” built on the plots. Nawandish insists he will fight them until the end. With no trace of fear in his voice, he says: “Because the fight against corruption and the land mafia is not so easy, I purchased a piece of land for my grave.”
Corruption is endemic in Afghanistan. In 2009 the presidential election was widely condemned by the international community for being massively fraudulent.