Taliban fighters pose with weapons as they sit in their compound at an undisclosed location in southern Afghanistan
Taliban fighters pose with weapons as they sit in their compound at an undisclosed location in southern Afghanistan in this May 5, 2011. Reuters

Just over 38 years ago, on 17 July 1973, King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan was overthrown in a coup d'état whilst undergoing medical treatment in Italy, by his Prime Minister and cousin, Mohammed Daoud Khan. Anyone can be forgiven for missing the 38th anniversary of the First Republic celebrations in Kabul as there don't appear to have been any.

An oversight possibly, but the Sunday, 17 July 2011 saw the assassination in Kabul by two suicide bombers of Hashim Watanwal, a member of the Afghan parliament and an advisor to President Hamid Karzai. This came after the killing of the Chief of Police of Kandahar by a suicide bomber on 15 July 2011 and of greater importance, politically if not morally, of Ahmad Wali Karzai.

Ahmad Wali Karzai, the half-brother of President Karzai and de-facto Provincial Governor of Kandahar Province with alleged ties to the drug trade, was shot by his bodyguard, head of security and long-time friend, Sardar Mohammed as he was coming out of his bathroom on 12 July 2011. Too late to save him, Ahmed Karzai's other bodyguards killed the assassin and hung his body in the city square.

Motive for the killing is uncertain but the Taliban were quick to claim that Sardar Mohammed was one of their "sleepers" whilst others claim the reason was much more mundane, a personal disagreement or grudge.

Whatever the real reason, the question must be asked whether Afghanistan is fit to be called a state in anything more but name? Even its history in recent times reads more like that of Merovingian France 1,500 years ago. To paraphrase Shakespeare's Hamlet, is Afghanistan not "an unweeded garden" of "things rank and gross in nature". Marcellus could aptly use the description "rotten".

What is most certainly "rotten" in the state of Afghanistan is corruption, and on a scale that makes anything we in the UK are dealing with seem inconsequential. The body, Transparency International compiles an annual Corruption Index and Afghanistan in 2010 was judged the second most corrupt country of 178 states rated, equal with Myanmar and only better than Somalia.

The Corruption Index was designed in 1995 by Johann Graf Lambsdorff at the University of Passau, Germany and has been modified over time to address criticisms and iron out cultural differences. Answering the question, What is corruption? they reply: "Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone whose life, livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority."

Transparency International (TI) list a number of reasons as to why fighting corruption matters. One particularly relevant to Afghanistan reads: "The family trapped for generations in poverty because a corrupt and autocratic leadership has systematically siphoned off a nation's riches." For "family", one can reasonably substitute the word "country" and what is alarming in Afghanistan's case is that its Corruption Index score (10 being perfect) has dropped from 2.5 in 2005 to just 1.4 in 2010.

Pulling together information from a variety of seminars and resources held with and by organisations such as NATO, the UN and the Royal United Services Institute, TI UK on Friday 13 May 2011, issued their report Afghanistan in Transition: Re-shaping Priorities for 2015 and Beyond. Amongst its findings was one by a recent survey of Afghan people which found that the number one perceived problem for over 60 per cent was not the Taliban, or terrorism or the economy, but corruption.

Doctor Sharad Joshi of the Monetary Institute of International Studies told TI that the average Afghani is extremely disappointed with the Government's performance and "the fact that everyone in the Government, from the lowest official to the highest public authorities...they seem to be on the take." He went on to claim that with each passing year since 2001, corruption had been increasing.

For the average Afghan living in the villages of Southern Afghanistan "...there is really no alternative to the Taliban." Doctor Joshi claimed.. "Ideally, the alternative would be the Afghan Government forces, but if they are so utterly corrupt, then how can the Afghans trust the Afghan Security Forces, especially the Police, to provide security for them?" Doctor Joshi said that one can directly link corruption to the expansion of the Taliban's influence.

Huguette Labelle, Chair of the Board of Directors of TI stressed that in addition to poverty, corruption in Afghanistan generated dissent and was "working and seeding criminal activities".

General Stéphane Abrial, NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation said: "The more people recognise that there is corruption, the less support they are going to give our operations..." and that much more time was now being devoted to anti-corruption and to building integrity.

Valey Arya of Brunel University and a Lecturer on NATO courses advocated more training for the Afghan Security Forces, especially the Police. These are the people that the populace should see as role models. Relationships between NATO Forces and the Afghan Army are much more solid and tackling corruption within the Police has of late been given much more emphasis. As Doctor Joshi pointed out, a fundamental problem has been that a great many recruits for the Afghan Police, can't even read or write, let alone read a map.

General Abrial went on to stress the importance of education and laying good and proper foundations: "Ingraining the right mindset, proving that things can be done otherwise and...ensure that the people we talk to share the same values we have."

Whether from an Afghan background like Mr Arya who was born and brought up in Herat or a Western; whether from a military or civil environment, all could agree on two things: NATO's support is key to the success of the changes required to bring Afghanistan into the 21st Century as a properly functioning state and, this will need time.

"...2015 and Beyond". Oh dear! Since 2002, the French President's term has been reduced from seven to five years, renewable once. For electioneering purposes, that puts him on a par with the British Prime Minister and no politician of the party in power wants bad news or particularly awkward situations in the run-up to an election. The American President is on a tighter rein still, four years, and more and more in America, it appears that the start of the next campaign is any time after the Mid-term Elections.

On 22 June 2011, President Obama announced the withdrawal of 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by September 2012 at the latest, 10,000 by the end of 2011. The New York Times reported that the US Military Commander in Afghanistan "had not endorsed the decision" and wanted left in place, as many combat troops as possible for as long as possible.

Bilal Sarwary, BBC News, Kabul on 23 June 2011 said in a report:

"Afghanistan's police and army are still dependent on coalition forces for air support, food, ammunition and roadside bomb-clearing. In addition, they have high rates of desertion and drug addiction, as well as "rogue" soldiers...."

The UK has at present 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, but Prime Minister David Cameron, after taking advice from the National Security Council and military officials, announced on 06 July 2011, a withdrawal of 500 British troops in 2012.

In a statement released on behalf of President Sarkozy on 23 June 2011, France, with 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, will begin a "gradual withdrawal" of its forces "in line with the American strategy"

On 18 July 2011, General Petraeus handed over command to General John Allen. Shanthie Mariet D'Souza writing for Al Arabiya News on 23 July 2011, said that there was little doubt that General Allen's task is much harder than that of his predecessor whose gains "continued to remain fragile and reversible".

General Allen, she continues, takes over at a time when the Taliban "have been able to spike violence and have been responsible for a number of high profile killings" and civilian violence in the first six months of 2011 was up 15 per cent from the same period last year.

Most tellingly, Ms D'Souza comments on the coming months: "Any visible Taliban gain will imperil the reconciliation process and make the drawdown appear more like a retreat imposed by the insurgents."

On Saturday, 23 July 2011, NATO handed over to Afghan control, the country's "northern capital" of Mazar-i-Sharif. AFP claims that there is a widely held belief that the timetable is politically motivated "and scepticism is running high over Afghan abilities to ward off a trenchant Taliban insurgency."

Maybe I should have titled this: Afghanistan on a Precipice!