For 20 years, the United States and NATO allies pushed their imperialist agenda on Afghanistan, resulting only in a humiliating defeat and forced exit. Two decades of supposed state building and imposing values of “freedom” and “democracy” revealed itself to harbour quite the opposite: corruption, poverty, mass casualties, and the undermining of employment sectors, all of which were exacerbated by NATO nations.
Of the many consequences that came of the US relationship with the previous Afghan government led by presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, aid corruption was one of the most detrimental to the people of Afghanistan.
Billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded aid was poured into Afghanistan under the false pretence of providing humanitarian support, social stability, and building infrastructure. However, much of this went into the hands of corrupt government officials, the political elite, military, and police, who continued to suppress citizens’ rights. A report cited by the Asian Foundation in 2021 found that 98.7 per cent of Afghans described corruption as a major problem.  
“Afghanistan’s corruption was made in America”
These are the words of Sarah Chayes, a first-hand witness and analyst of America’s corruption in Afghanistan.
And according to a report by the US government’s Afghan rebuilding oversight authority, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR),
“…[the] US contributed to the growth of corruption by injecting tens of billions of dollars into the Afghan economy, using flawed oversight and contracting practices, and partnering with malign power-brokers.” 
Billions were wasted by being sent to the offices of Karzai, in a feeble attempt to maintain oversight and control of the Afghan government. But Karzai’s intent was just as self-serving as his funders; he played a key role in the culture of extortion and violent threats amongst Afghans who could not engage basic services from teachers, doctors, or government officials without the use of bribery. 
The Western military alliance would then partner with these corrupt government officials, enabling and ensuring impunity for their crimes.
For example, Washington sidelined any investigations into financial corruption, despite it being found that US-backed Afghan officials were stealing materials and their troops’ monthly wages.
In another example, Washington stayed silent even after Mohammed Zia Salehi, a senior Karzai aide, was released from detention within hours of being arrested for large-scale corruption. President Karzai had personally intervened, sending a strong message to US partners that his loyalty couldn’t be bought. He subsequently barred the US Department of Justice from monitoring activities. 
To further underline how serious the corruption was, surveys conducted in 2010 estimated that an amount between $2bn and $5bn was paid in bribes each year, equivalent to at least 13 per cent of the country’s GDP. 
The US dismissed the issue of corruption for years, leading people to believe that the country’s motives in Afghanistan were nothing to do with civilians, but rather to enhance their geopolitical standing at the expense of the livelihoods of a whole nation.
UK exploits taxpayer aid to fund corruption in Afghanistan
The US is not the only Western nation to blame in this disastrous corruption scandal.
In November 2022, the UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) found that a total of £3.5bn in aid had been sent to Afghanistan in twenty years, with £252m used to fund police salaries.
The ICAI report noted that “police corruption and brutality, including extortion, arbitrary detention, torture, and extrajudicial killings” may have been supported through UK aid. The ICAI also rated the UK’s development assistance to Afghanistan as “unsatisfactory” in most areas. 
Billions of pounds which were supposedly meant to contribute to infrastructure, health, and education services were instead mostly exploited by government officials who siphoned money to buy luxury villas in Dubai. 
American democracy mirrored the corruption they caused
US and NATO allies convinced the world that twenty years of war and occupation was a noble pursuit of establishing “democracy” and “freedom”.
However, during the Afghan presidential elections in 2009, the US showed just how much they valued democracy by allowing Karzai to win votes via fraudulent ballots.
Karzai was proven to have filled ballot boxes with his name in various districts around Afghanistan. But instead of removing him from running or even holding re-elections, Washington kept Karzai in government but lowered his votes slightly. 
As Chayes — a former special advisor at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) — noted in her September 2021 piece for Foreign Affairs,
“That, ultimately, was the type of democracy that Americans cultivated in Afghanistan: one where the rules are rewritten on the fly by those who amass the most money and power and where elections are settled not at the ballot box but by those who already hold office.” 
Overcoming 20 years of corruption
The people of Afghanistan remain resilient, despite the fact that NATO enabled twenty years of corruption, misuse of aid, harboured an environment of fear and hostility, and left Afghanistan in a man-made humanitarian crisis which was then exacerbated by imposing sanctions.
Although their needs were exploited and they were isolated from the international community for two decades, it is now more crucial than ever to support Afghanistan through our advocacy and aid.
This means calling for the return of assets and helping genuine efforts to rebuild Afghanistan. The country’s citizens are seeing peace and security after decades of war. Moreover, our aid must be sustainable and one which leads to the people becoming self-sufficient.
Support the work of Human Aid & Advocacy, which aims to serve persecuted and oppressed communities by addressing the root causes of issues and providing sustainable solutions.
- Research and raise awareness of the realities of the 20-year NATO war in Afghanistan.
- Support sustainable initiatives that work directly with Afghans, such as those led by Human Aid & Advocacy.
- Push for the unfreezing of assets and the rebuilding of Afghanistan, so it can feel peace and security after decades of war.
- The White Tears for Afghanistan’s Women
- US deserts Bagram airbase as it flees Afghanistan
- A Year Since the End of US Occupation in Afghanistan
- Afghanistan’s Economic Improvements Under the Taliban
- The Twin Massacres: where savagery is only eclipsed by silence
- Adieu Afghanistan! Another shame-faced exit from an unconquerable land
- British Muslim scholars voice support to Shaykh Suliman Gani on Afghanistan visit