In 2001, Sarah Chayes, an award-winning National Public Radio journalist, moved to Afghanistan to cover the fall of the Taliban. The following year she felt a compulsion to help rebuild the country. She hung up her microphone and founded a manufacturing cooperative in Kandahar, the former Taliban capital, using local produce to make skincare products – a way of encouraging local farmers to grow flowers, fruits and herbs instead of opium poppies.
But as billions of US aid dollars flowed in, much of it ended up overseas in property and other assets in more stable locations. Chayes concluded that Afghanistan was not a country with a corruption problem but one governed by a crime syndicate, a ‘mafia-esque system, in which money flows upwards via the purchase of office, kickbacks or “sweets” in return for permission to extract resources … and protection’.