Seventeen years of American warfare that was tasked, among other things, with ‘gifting’ democracy to the people of Afghanistan and the news is not good. Aside from the sheer fragility of the security situation in that country — Transparency International has ranked Afghanistan as the world’s fourth most corrupt nation. And although it has dropped one place since 2015 this is still not good enough. We say this not to try and taunt our neighbours across our western border — but to ask what the US has achieved in all this time. For bluntly put, graft and lack of accountability have long been a hallmark of Washington-backed governments in the post-Taliban set up, starting with then President Hamid Karzai. The latter was famously accused of large-scale fraud not to mention involvement in the Afghan drug trade. When Ashraf Ghani took to the helm back in 2014 he vowed to tackle this threat head-on. Unfortunately, he along with various members of his regime have not escaped similar allegations of wrongdoing. All of which represents a dangerous weapon in militant hands. Meaning that the lines become increasingly blurred between those who are to safeguard the citizenry’s interests and those who are only concerned with consolidating their grip on power. Yet Afghanistan’s corruption goes beyond the monetary. Government and security officials alike are known to sexually abuse women and children. Even more shocking is that the US military has gone on record as saying that the guilty have presented this as a cultural issue to be ignored; particularly when it comes to the violation of underage boys. In other words, those institutions meant to protect the Afghan people continue to recruit sexual predators. But where political set-ups and foreign military powers fail — civil society comes to the fore. Activists in Afghanistan have used a number of mediums to condemn corruption and misuse of authority by government officials. Much like the group of students who painted murals to raise awareness about child labour, among other issues, in Lahore back in 2015 — a group of social warriors calling themselves the “ArtLords” have sprung up in Kabul and their preferred weapon of choice is the not so humble paintbrush. They paint murals over the imposing blast walls (constructed barriers to protect buildings and people from terrorist-related explosions) that have popped up all over the city. Thus they reclaim the public space by transforming these grey slabs of concrete into splashes of colour that condemn the government, American bombs and the Taliban. But at the heart of these messages is the hope for social change. We hope that Washington and Kabul have heard the ArtLord’s message. For if the US-backed Afghan government wants to win the war against the Taliban and ISIS it will have to prove that it is truly committed to protecting the fundamental rights of the citizenry. And that means distinguishing itself from the insurgents. * Published in Daily Times, February 24th 2018.