The Taliban say they will not hold former Afghan officials accountable for the massive corruption that derailed donor-funded development projects and contributed to the collapse of the former Afghan Republic.
“Those who nurtured and enriched themselves during the previous invasion and from the U.S.’s system own their properties and assets and it will remain so,” Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA’s Pashto Service.
Former officials suspected of corruption will face courts, he said, only if they seized private properties or public assets during the past two decades.
Asked about properties some former Afghan officials might have acquired via corrupt practices in the former Afghan government, Mujahid said, “individuals who abused the previous system” would not face legal accountability and will keep their wealth.
Bankrolled by foreign donors, the former Afghan Republic was consistently ranked among the five most corrupt states in the world.
“Corruption inflicted significant damage to U.S. efforts to reconstruct Afghanistan and strengthen its institutions,” said Philip LaVelle, director of public affairs for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. government monitor for aid to Afghanistan. He spoke to VOA.
From 2002 to 2021, the U.S. spent more than $145 billion on reconstruction and development projects in Afghanistan while other donors such as the European Union also channeled billions of dollars for the same purposes.
“Corruption was a major cause of the republic’s ignominious collapse,” Wahed Faqiri, an Afghan-American analyst, told VOA. “It undermined the entire system. It severely undermined the legitimacy of the republic. It strengthened the Taliban. Corruption made Taliban’s propaganda effective, real, and tangible.”
Mohammad Halim Fidai, a former senior Afghan official, said corruption was one factor but not the underlying cause of the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, as the country was named from 2004 to 2021.
“Highlighting corruption is aimed at diverting attention from the wrongdoings by U.S. policymakers,” Fidai told VOA, adding that Taliban insurgents were also involved in corruption as they levied taxes and extorted money from development projects.
LaVelle said U.S. spending was flawed and even fueled corruption in Afghanistan.
“The United States failed to recognize the magnitude of corruption early on, empowered warlords and other corrupt actors, and poured too much money in so quickly it couldn’t be absorbed,” he said.
No anti-corruption body
Nearly a year in power, the Taliban have neither announced a policy nor appointed a government body to counter corruption.
The leadership’s anti-corruption performance has received mixed results.
Citing the findings of a survey of Afghan traders, Andrea Mario Dall’Olio, the World Bank’s lead economist for Afghanistan, said in April that corruption appears to have been “curbed significantly” at customs and border checkpoints.
Others say Taliban officials are succumbing to all sorts of corruption and abuses of power.
“On the whole, the Taliban are relatively cleaner than the republic. However, as time goes on, nepotism is creeping in. Corruption is taking root. Luxury is showing its ugly face,” said Faqiri.
Fidai, the former Afghan official who now lives abroad, accused the Taliban of more than monetary corruption.
“Occupying all political government posts by Mullah without merit and even having three ministers from one family in the cabinet is corruption,” he said, referring to the powerful Haqqani family that occupies several top cabinet positions in the ruling Taliban leadership.
Officials return to immunity
As the Taliban consolidate their grip on power, they have allowed and even facilitated the return of some former Afghan officials, including at least two ministers, offering them “immunity cards” against persecution.
Women, as in the Taliban’s other policy arenas, have been excluded from the process as no prominent female politician or former official has been repatriated to Afghanistan so far.
While the returning officials say they have come back to their country and want to live with their people, some observers say former officials want to retain the assets they could not take abroad when the former Afghan government abruptly collapsed last year.
The Taliban’s unconditional offer to let former Afghan officials return and retain their assets, and the group’s assurance of immunity from prosecution, could protect those who illicitly made riches out of projects and programs that aimed to build effective and viable institutions and services for Afghanistan.
SIGAR, which has investigated numerous cases of corruption and abuse in U.S. spending in Afghanistan — several cases of which have been heard in U.S. courts — said it will not cease criminal investigations into “theft, fraud, and abuse of U.S. reconstruction dollars, and we go where the facts and the evidence lead us.”