Afghan justice system rife with graft

By Mujib Mashal

In a corner office at one of the most corrupt institutions of the Afghan government, the country’s new attorney general has been tasked with actually delivering justice. It is an uphill battle if there ever was one. The attorney general, Mohammad Farid Hamidi, must contend with a powerful political elite that over the past 15 years has seen law enforcement as its private net to entangle rivals and make money. The culture of graft and impunity has been entrenched for so long that the Afghan public hardly raises a fuss about it anymore.
“When you say anti-corruption, people laugh and say good luck with that,” said Naseem Akbar, the executive director of the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, which evaluates anti-corruption efforts across the country. “The most corrupt speak of fighting corruption. The offices of control and monitoring at ministries have largely become known for their corruption. People lost compete faith.”
More than anything, Mr. Hamidi is up against his own institution. The attorney general’s office, which is supposed to be the highest enforcement agency of the law, is seen as breaking it at every turn. “You see a fancy two-story or three-story house, and you ask, ‘Whose is it?’ They name a prosecutor working in some corner of the attorney general’s office here,” Masroor Lutfi, a law student in Parwan Province, told Mr. Hamidi during a recent official visit to the province. “Everyone who finds out that I am studying law questions my real intentions, because the law has come under question.”
Mr. Hamidi nodded in pained agreement. When it was his turn to speak, he acknowledged that the failure of the justice system had alienated people from the government, sometimes driving them to take their grievances to the Taliban even in areas under government control. “What is the point of controlling districts when we don’t have people’s hearts?” he said. Bluntly, he says he has inherited an institution that he feels is in the same shape it was the morning after the Taliban government was overrun in 2001. Despite millions of dollars spent, there has been no attention to its most basic infrastructure, or to building the capacity of the staff; only one-third of its members have higher education.
Mr. Hamidi said the attorney general’s office had been a “systematic” clearing house for graft by the elite, putting the stamp of legality on shady deals and corrupt syndicates while it pressed politically favourable prosecutions. “It was extremely political — it was a political tool at the hands of those who wanted to hit their rivals, to dishonour them,” he said. “It was a place for character assassination.”
All of that is an implicit accusation against his predecessor, Mohammad Ishaq Aloko, who served as attorney general for around eight years and was seen as a strong ally of former President Hamid Karzai. Reached by phone, Mr. Aloko defended his record before hanging up abruptly. Senior officials linked to some of the most blatant cases of graft, including those accused in the near-meltdown of the Kabul Bank after $900 million in fraudulent “buddy” loans, were treated with leniency, or their convictions have been effectively forgotten.
Even in the most difficult political environment, with President Ashraf Ghani’s administration facing intense challenges and missed deadlines, Mr. Hamidi insists that so far, he has the firm support of the government’s coalition partners in his attempt to depoliticise his office. He recounted how he had recently suspended a powerful official in western Afghanistan who had a history of breaking his friends out of police custody with impunity. The man had also served as one of Mr. Ghani’s top campaign leaders in his region during the 2014 presidential election.
But when Mr. Hamidi demanded that the official appear before prosecutors for questioning, and faced pressure for doing so, Mr. Ghani fully backed him. Mr. Hamidi fully understands that he is making enemies. But he said he was counting on a widening base of support among the public as he started making changes. “If you carry out the smallest action in a country where people no longer expect anything, it will bring you major support — and that support helps in lowering the political price one has to pay,” Mr. Hamidi said.
 Courtesy: The New York Times