President Hamid Karzai has blamed "foreigners" for exaggerating the amount of corruption in Afghanistan. Last week he reiterated the dastardly plot, sounding like a Burmese general fulminating against foreign stooges.
"The government is not what they [foreigners] say," he said. "Some of the things they say is just political pressure on us, saying 'Karzai, follow us otherwise we will defame you'."
Such protestations do President Karzai no favors. He is either gob-smackingly ignorant or wildly dishonest and neither option is particularly attractive. The kindest you could say about Karzai is that he has shown a tolerance of corruption that is deeply inappropriate.
Anyone who lives in Kabul knows that corrupt payments are a daily transaction, from keeping your electricity connected, paying a teacher to let your child stay in class, or paying a toll at an impromptu roadblock, erected for eliciting bribes.
For all the many problems that Karzai faces - not easily counted on the fingers of two hands - corruption could well be the biggest. It eats away at everything in Afghanistan, and has created despair and anger all over the country. Karzai's government - from the most senior ministers to the lowly rural clerk - is loathed, sometimes feared, but always deeply disrespected.
"There's not an ideological opposition to the Karzai Government," analyst Sarah Chayes told Australian radio last week. "The opposition to the Karzai Government is because of the way it treats its people. [Y]ou basically cannot interact with a government official without it causing you pain or damage." The population feels helpless in the face of constant fleecing, and has no means of seeking justice. A trip to the cop-shop will cost you a bribe, any legal action must be covered with corrupt payments and you may end up in jail yourself because the system is so rotten.
Hamid Karzai last week announced that he makes $487 per month as president, has no debts and does not own a house, land, car or any other assets. His wife owns about $10,000 worth of jewelry. There's also $10,000 in a German bank account but the President says he hasn't checked the account for over ten years.
He then announced a new decree that government employees must declare their assets:
"I hope all the government employees and high-ranking officials will fill this form and register their property to show the public more transparency and an accountable government," he said.
And the new form, which you hope people will fill out, seems more embarrassing than meaningful. Hamid Karzai is no lay down misére for the August elections and for all the violence and insecurity in Afghanistan, it may well be his tolerance for corruption that seals his fate.