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France’s outgoing Afghan envoy slams corruption

Text by: Hannah OLIVENNES
5 min

Bernard Bajolet, the outgoing French ambassador to Afghanistan, blamed the country’s rampant corruption and the drug trade on the country's failure to establish itself as an independent country in a hard-hitting speech last Tuesday.


France’s outgoing ambassador to Afghanistan, Bernard Bajolet, gave a frank final speech last Tuesday in which he blamed corruption for the country's failure to establish itself as an independent country.

“The first challenge is corruption,” 63-year-old Bajolet said, who is leaving to run France’s foreign intelligence service, Direction Génerale de la Sécurité Extérieure.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed Monday that his government had received money from the US intelligence agency over the past decade, following reports of large sums of cash changing hands in the CIA’s effort to gain influence.

Karzai thanked the US spy agency for what he said was money well spent.

In its Sunday edition, The New York Times reported that tens of millions of American dollars, referred to as “ghost money,” hidden in suitcases, backpacks or even plastic bags, were regularly dropped off at Karzai’s office and used to pay off warlords and corrupt politicians.

"Yes, the National Security Council of Afghanistan has received money from CIA in the past 10 years. The amount was not big, rather it was small," Karzai said in a statement.

Bajolet, who has been in Kabul since 2011, said the rampant corruption stems partly “from the lack of faith of a large part of the elite in the future of their own country.”

"We should be lucid: a country that depends almost entirely on the international community for the salaries of its soldiers and policemen, for most of its investments and partly on it for its current civil expenditure cannot be really independent," he stated at the embassy cocktail party.

International interest in the country is also fading rapidly, argued the outgoing French ambassador, again blaming corruption which “in addition to its moral dimension, has an effect on foreign investment, since investors are deterred not only by the lack of security, but by the level of corruption.”

Matter of time before the Taliban return?

Bajolet also gave a strong warning about Afghanistan's prospects as a sovereign country once the NATO-led mission ends next year. "Elections, new president, economic transition, military transition - and all this whereas the negotiations for the peace process have not really started," he said.

However, Alan Rodier, a French former intelligence officer, went even further than Bajolet in a phone interview with FRANCE24. He argued that “everyone knows very well that as soon as the NATO forces leave, it will be a matter of time before the Taliban regain power.”

Rodier also said that whilst Bajolet is an “extremely esteemed” diplomat who has handled Afghanistan with “an iron fist in a velvet glove”, his speech didn’t bring anything new to the debate.

“It wasn’t ground-breaking. He said out loud what everyone was thinking. However, it’s good to remind everyone, and to hear it from an official source, that the situation in Afghanistan is far from resolved despite other foreign official statements,” added Rodier.

Conversely, General Dunford, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan made a statement last Wednesday that was completely contrary to Bajolet and Rodier’s analysis. Dunford argued that, “The coalition and the good people of Afghanistan won’t be satisfied until there is a secure, stable Afghanistan at peace with its neighbours. Despite the remaining challenges, the progress toward that goal is indisputable.”

ISAF surveys “clearly reflect that the Afghan people will simply not tolerate the oppressive policies imposed by the former Taliban Government,” he said.

Losing the war on drugs?

Bajolet did concede, nonetheless, that great progress had been made in the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda. But after the war on terror, the country now needs to focus on a war on drugs, he said.

For Bajolet, the drug trade should have been one of the international community’s top priorities during its 11 years in Afghanistan, and local authorities need to be stronger in their fight against drug lords.

“We will help Afghanistan, alongside our partners, but we need to see a clear determination on its part to eradicate or at least significantly reduce this plague,” said Bajolet of the country’s opium production.

"Drugs... in Western Europe, in Russia, in the Balkans, in central Asia, cause more casualties even than terrorism,” he said. 

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