Best Defense

Tom, to answer your corruption question: Here’s the best study you’ll never see

The most difficult problem with studying corruption is effectively measuring it.



By “Davy Divarty”
Best Defense guest respondent

The most difficult problem with studying corruption is effectively measuring it. It is also linked with security and governance in a thorny way. Colombia had problems with judicial corruption, as well as security. Pablo Escobar was famous for telling judges that they could take his silver or his lead.

Some believe that a similar issue exists in Afghanistan. Public opinion polls suggest that in urban areas, people are generally satisfied with the Afghan government’s courts. But in the larger, rural areas, unofficial courts held by tribal leaders or the Taliban (sometimes the same people) were seen as both more efficient and less corrupt.

In 2013, a social scientist with the Army’s Human Terrain System and an ISAF rule of law advisor in Kabul proposed an anonymous survey to study the few thousand judges and prosecutors that made up the formal Afghan legal system. They would ask some basic demographic and educational questions. Then they would move on the more important questions, such as if they had ever been threatened or made a judicial decision based on a specific or implied threat. The Afghans had a special security unit set aside to protect their judicial officials. But, as with so many other things, the farther you got away from Kabul, the more you wondered about their effectiveness. The hope was that the study would shed some light on whether what the public perceived as a corruption problem was actually a security problem.

The study never happened. It was approved by ISAF and funded by the Army. Unfortunately, by the time it was approved by the Afghan government, the Army was in the process of shuttering the Human Terrain program. Some of the social scientists made vain attempts to hand the project off to others in the government or academia, but nothing became of it. No one else had the time, money, access, or inclination to answer those kinds of questions. Maybe the next war…

“Davy Divarty” has been there and done that.

Photo credit: IAN BARBOUR/Flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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