Kabul, Afghanistan – In Kabul, the mayor has been convicted of corruption, but continues to work as the city leader. Abdul Ahad Sahebi was sentenced to four years in prison after being judged guilty of awarding a city construction contract without bidding. Sahebi says there's no proof. "It is baseless, without any evidence. without any foundation," he says.
The deputy attorney general Fazil Ahmad Faqeer Yar disagrees. "The court has ordered his dismissal," he says. "So everything he is doing now is illegal."
The matter goes to the heart of NATO's new strategy in Afghanistan - additional troops can bring short-term security but the U.S. says Afghanistan's government needs to crack down on rampant corruption as well.
On paper the Afghan government has executive, legislative and judicial branches, with a political model that resembles those of other democratic states. The country has a constitution that provides equality to all. But even as Hamid Karzai was sworn in for a second term as president in November following a fraud-marred election, the international community was pressuring the leader for reform.
The government is plagued with allegations of corruption, cronyism and warlords – with some questioning whether democracy can ever work in Afghanistan.
But others disagree. "In the 262 years of our modern history we have never been governed. We have been ruled - or misruled," says Afghan parliamentarian Daoud Sultanzoy. "And for the Western experts, who are so-called Afghan experts, to say that Afghans do not like governance it's a very easy way out."
Sultanzoy said that if Afghans are given good governance, they would come in several fold and embrace that government and its authorities. WATCH: Can Afghanistan win its people?
"It's not the strength of the Taliban, it's the weakness of this government that has driven the people away from the government," he said.
Sultanzoy says that the problem stems from the top down, and that it is Karzai's responsibility to stamp out the bad seeds.
"The rule of law has to start from the president in exercising it on its own staff, exercising it on its own cabinet and then going into mid and lower level government, in the capital and the provinces," he said. "Then at the same time, go into the private sector."
His advice to Karzai is to bring some of the corrupt government officials to justice and punish them to the extent of the law.
"This will tell the people of Afghanistan that we're serious about governance, we're serious of punishing the people who have sucked the blood out from the people of Afghanistan," Sultanzoy said.
Today's Afghan government is a mix of former NGO employees, including the president himself, and remnants of the Communist and Mujahedeen era.
Corruption, warlords and insecurity are just some of the factors that have been pushing Afghans away from their government and into the arms of the insurgency, some say.
Karzai vowed once again during his inauguration speech to tackle corruption within his own government.
"The corruption is a very dangerous enemy of the state, and we would like to take this matter quite seriously," Karzai said.
But Karzai himself has been criticized for ignoring corruption and surrounding himself with the criminals he should be punishing – allegations he rebuffs.
And although the international community has been in Afghanistan for nearly a decade now, many agree the real work did not start until just recently.
"The first five years that the international community was in Afghanistan, I think it's fair to say that the level of resources and commitment to governance and development was much less than what it has been in the last three years," Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan William Crosbie said.
Crosbie admits that some failures of the Afghan government were also failures by its international partners.
"We too often turned to power brokers and warlords to fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda and turned a blind eye to perhaps if those individuals were inappropriately using government offices or using their power," he said.
Both the international community and the Karzai government will have to make difficult choices when those kinds of individuals will no longer be relied upon, he added.
No war has ever been won in Afghanistan without the support of the Afghan people. This coming year may be the pivotal year in which the Afghans will decide which way to go. That's when Obama's strategy announced last week will be implemented. The plan calls for 30,000 more U.S. troops in the next months to target the insurgency and also train additional Afghan security forces.
But lately, some Afghans are drifting towards the Taliban, claiming that the group provides them with law and order and protecting them from the criminal elements within the Afghan authorities.
One farmer in the Helmand province earlier this year explained. Although he was seeing success at his farm, he has had trouble with the government. He says officials tell him that some of the land belongs to them but he disagrees. Because of that, he said, he is forced to go to the Taliban.
To combat charges like this, Karzai created a new anti-corruption task force. Their first high-profile case? The mayor of Kabul.
The mayor Sahebi refutes his conviction with documents he says prove that Afghanistan's attorney general was trying to get him to illegally evict people from land plots in the city. When Sahebi refused, he says, he was charged on what he says are totally baseless claims.
So for now, the question of corruption is still top of mind for many Afghans and the international community, while a mayor convicted of corruption remains in office accusing the country's anti-corruption task force of being corrupt.