Afghanistan: Pay to play

A number of recent press reports show that wealthy Afghans, including many business leaders, are quietly leaving the country. Increasing numbers of Afghan entrepreneurs and members of the Afghan upper class, concerned about future security in their homeland, have been buying homes abroad. Real estate purchases by Afghans in the first half of 2012 were 27% higher than they were during the same period in 2011. In the first half of the year, Afghans purchased 114 properties in one Middle East country alone. A recent report on governance in Afghanistan notes: “many Afghan property transactions have not been registered and the actual figure could be three or four times higher than the ‘official’ rate”.
Meanwhile, although not all Afghan establishment figures are buying homes abroad, most have been moving their money there. Growing numbers of the country’s governing military, establishment figures and captains of industry, are moving their cash out of Afghanistan and into overseas bank accounts. Not by bank transfer but in suitcases and vacuum-packed bundles, air freighted out of Kabul Airport in solid blocks of currency, mostly US dollars. In 2011, an estimated $4.5bn was flown out of the country in this way.
Officials, who have sought to stem the flight of capital, believe much of the money comes from massive embezzlement of foreign aid, corruption or the narcotics trade. Everyone, it seems, is on the make; and those not involved are subject to a life of being bled dry by corrupt officials at all levels of society. Corruption shrivels the effectiveness of government and creates a yawning gulf between authority and the people it is supposed to serve. Yet it remains rife, widespread and rampant.

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