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Afghanistan: Nepotism, Cronyism Widespread In Government

Many Afghans complain about widespread nepotism and cronyism in the government. They accuse top officials -- including Transitional Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai -- of using their positions to place friends and family members in government posts at the expense of more qualified professionals. Some Afghan leaders acknowledge the problem and suggest the solution rests in creating more jobs and promoting Afghanistan's private sector.

Prague, 6 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Abdulahrar Romizpour, a law professor at Kabul University, told RFE/RL that appointments to key, decision-making positions in the Afghan government are unlikely to happen without the support of family members or close relatives already inside the government.

"When the government appoints someone to senior posts, it should pay attention to their professional background and their education. Unfortunately, it is not the case here. People get jobs through their connections, not according their professional skills and knowledge," Romizpour said.

Afghan experts interviewed by RFE/RL all acknowledge that nepotism and cronyism are widespread in all levels of government, as well as in many nongovernmental organizations. They say almost every Afghan minister, governor, or organization chief tries to give key positions to family, friends or other people who owe them loyalty.

Romizpour is particularly critical of Sayyed Mustafa Kazemi, Afghanistan's trade minister, whom he accuses of rampant nepotism. "Our trade minister calls himself an Afghan patriot. The Afghan trade representative in Germany, Sayyed Mujtaboh Hashemi, is the trade minister's cousin. The minister's other cousin, Muslim, is trade representative in Dubai. His other two cousins are trade representatives in the Iranian town of Mashhad. Mr. Daleri, the chief of customs in Kabul, is also the trade minister's cousin. Mr. Hussein Agha, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, is the trade minister's brother-in-law. The head of the Food Supply Office, Sayyed Hashem Hashemi, is the trade minister's cousin," he said.

Numerous other examples of nepotism and cronyism in the Afghan government exist.

Mohammad Qasim Fahim is Afghanistan's defense minister. His cousin Sultan Mahmud Didar was appointed Afghanistan's defense attache in Berlin. Fahim and his two deputies -- Atiqullah Baryalai and Bismillah Khan, as well as Abdul Latef, a senior official at the Defense Ministry -- are members of Shura-yi Nezar, a loose political grouping comprised of former mujahedin parties.

Latef is brother of Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is also a prominent member of Shura-yi Nezar.

Relatives and family members of other influential figures, such as Ismail Khan, the governor of the western province of Herat, and Abdul Rashid Dostum, the powerful regional commander in northern Afghanistan, also hold high posts. Ismail Khan's son was appointed minister of civil aviation and tourism, despite what was said to be a lack of qualifications. Meanwhile, Dostum's brother, Abdul Qader, is Afghanistan's ambassador to Kyrgyzstan.

Indeed, most of Afghanistan's ambassadors are relatives of high-ranking officials. Two of Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni's cousins, Saifi and Mohammad Hasan, serve as ambassadors to Bulgaria and Ukraine, respectively, while Transitional Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai chose two of his uncles, Abdul Aziz and Abdul Ghaffor, as ambassadors to the Czech Republic and Egypt, respectively.

Afghan Reconstruction Minister Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang acknowledges that nepotism and cronyism do exist in Afghanistan's government. "As a member of government, I do acknowledge that nepotism is rampant in our offices, unfortunately. I suppose, when the new government was established, it was a kind of police. We were planning to reform the system after the creation of the Loya Jirga. Unfortunately, reforms did not take place. Now we have to deal with the consequences. Nepotism and cronyism have been increasing in Afghanistan," Farhang said.

Mohammad Yusof Pashtun, Afghanistan's urban development minister, told RFE/RL that nepotism emerged in force during the jihad, the holy struggle, against the Moscow-backed government in Kabul. "Of course, there is no doubt that nepotism is widespread in Afghanistan. Nepotism emerged in our country during the jihad. During those times, no one was concerned about social justice. Security was the main issue. Every commander, every head of an office, would try to surround himself with people he could trust," Pashtun said.

Farhang, the reconstruction minister, said a lack of jobs and few other sources of reliable income are the main reasons behind increasing nepotism and cronyism in Afghanistan. Unemployment is still very high. Workers in the education, police, and health-care systems receive miserable wages. "It is simply impossible to find a source of income which would be enough to feed a family," Farhang said. "That's why everyone wants to get a position in a governmental system."

He said creating more jobs and promoting the country's nongovernmental sector will help alleviate nepotism. "We need to strengthen our economy, especially the private sector, because the private sector employs people according to their professional skills and knowledge, not through their connections and relatives. However, it is almost impossible to eliminate nepotism in the government system, even in well-advanced countries," Farhang said.

Afghan experts say the fight against nepotism and cronyism should start at the highest levels of the country's leadership. They say that instead of promoting their relatives into positions of influence, Afghan leaders should work to pull together a nation divided by political and ethnic differences.

(Zarif Nazar and Ahmad Takal from RFE/RL's Afghan Service contributed to this story.)

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.