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'Afghanistan's future lies in strengthening democracy, checking corruption'

The future of Afghanistan depends upon how it strengthens its fledgling democratic institutions and arrests corruption, says Sujeet Sarkar, the author of a new book on the war-ravaged country.

Aug 10, 2012

'Afghanistan's future lies in strengthening democracy, checking corruption'

The future of Afghanistan depends upon how it strengthens its fledgling democratic institutions and arrests corruption, says Sujeet Sarkar, the author of a new book on the war-ravaged country.

"Things can become terribly ugly if there is a sudden vacuum in federal governance. Hence every focus from now on has to be to fix governance in Afghanistan," Sarkar said while referring to the planned drawdown of the US-led coalition forces from 2013 that many fear could lead to the resurgence of the Taliban.

At the same time, Sarkar, author of the just-released "In Search of a New Afghanistan (Niyogi Books)", admitted there had been progress in some areas.

"Significant progress has been made in some sectors of development in Afghanistan. One such area is girls' education. In the last one decade, nearly three million children have been brought under the fold of education," Sarkar told IANS.

"All the women's medical colleges and engineering colleges (which were closed during the Taliban times) are running with their full capacity. A considerable number of women have taken up jobs in the urban areas," he added.

As for corruption, Sarkar said: "Afghanistan has been graded as the second most corrupt country in the world after Somalia by (Berlin-based) Transparency International. Afghanistan shares a berth with Myanmar with a Corruption Perception Index  (CPI) of 1.4."

According to a survey by anti-corruption Charity Integrity Watch, corruption in Afghanistan  had doubled since 2007 - six years after the coalition forces moved in.

"Afghans paid nearly $1 billion in bribes in 2008 with nearly one-third of those surveyed saying they had to pay up to obtain public services. Corruption emanates largely from lack of accountability and  weak machinery which is almost defunct in Afghanistan.  Whatever  little is left is  largely influenced by Kabul's power corridors. The rapid proliferation  of  corruption  is  hurting  Afghanistan badly," Sarkar said.

All the more reason to strengthen governance, he added.

Sarkar's book looks at the reconstruction of the country post 9/11 and describes the challenges.

"The country has to eliminate poppy cultivation as it is the root cause behind all evils to attract more foreign investment. There are larger issues at the international level like peace... The nation has to advance the peace process," said the writer.  

Sarkar  has  worked  in  Afghanistan  from  May  2005  to  March  2012,  as  an  high-level international  governance  advisor.

During  his  professional  stint,  the  author  had  the  opportunity  to witness  the  development  processes  across echelons  of  society.

"The idea to write 'In Search of a New Afghanistan' came during this phase of my active stay in Afghanistan," Sarkar said. His papers on development- and governance- related  work  had been considered  a  frontline  model  in  Afghanistan  by  international  media," the writer said.

"I have tried to make the common reader understand the role of Afghanistan and India in stopping Pakistan from muscling in the peace process and running away with the module for the peace process," he said.

Sarkar throws light on the last decade of military, reconstruction and development process in Afghanistan.

"After 9/11 NATO forces arrived in Afghanistan to irreversibly degrade the capacity of the Taliban to strike and, more importantly, exercise greater control over Afghanistan in future," said Sarkar, who has worked for several years in Afghanistan for an international aid organisation.

The writer said: "There was no denying that the Taliban had grown in number as well as influence over the past decade.

"From their stronghold of southern provinces, they have spread their tentacles to the once-peaceful northern provinces like Baglan, Takhar Kunduz and Badakshan. They are even worming their way into Kabul."

--Indo-Asian News Service

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