Sarah Chayes

Senior Associate
Democracy and Rule of Law Program
South Asia Program
Chayes, formerly special adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is an expert in South Asia policy, kleptocracy and anticorruption, and civil-military relations.


MA, Islamic History, Harvard University


Arabic; English; French


Sarah Chayes is a senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program and the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment. Formerly special adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she is an expert in South Asia policy, kleptocracy and anticorruption, and civil-military relations. She is working on correlations between acute public corruption and the rise of militant extremism.

A former reporter, she covered the fall of the Taliban for National Public Radio, then left journalism to remain in Kandahar in order to contribute to the reconstruction of the country, living there almost continuously since December 2001. After running a nongovernmental organization founded by President Karzai’s brother Qayum, Chayes launched a manufacturing cooperative that produces skin-care products for export from licit local agriculture. The goals were to help revive the region’s historic role in exporting fruit and its derivatives, promote sustainable development, and expand alternatives to the opium economy. Deeply embedded in the life of the city and fluent in Pashtu, Chayes gained a unique perspective on the unfolding war.

In 2009, she was tapped to serve as special adviser to Generals David McKiernan and Stanley McChrystal, commanders of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). She contributed her unique understanding of the Afghan south to the decisionmaking process, built ISAF’s anticorruption policy, and assisted the U.S. embassy in developing an integrated approach to Afghan kleptocracy. In 2010, Chayes became special adviser to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, contributing to strategic policy on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Arab Spring.

Chayes is author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (Penguin Press HC, 2006). She is a contributing writer for the Los Angeles Times opinion section, and her articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Atlantic, among other publications.

  • Op-Ed Los Angeles Times September 18, 2012
    Free Speech or Incitement?

    "Innocence of Muslims," the film whose video trailer indirectly led to the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens among others, is not, arguably, free speech protected under the U.S. Constitution.

  • Article September 17, 2012
    A Time for Statesmanship

    As anti-American unrest spreads, leaders must remember that all sides have provocateurs. U.S. statesmen should consider legally limiting extremists’ freedom to do real harm.

  • Afghanistan
    Q&A August 26, 2012 Русский
    Buried Mines in Afghanistan

    It is important to take a sober look at the time bombs U.S. policy may be planting in Afghanistan, and to engage in rigorous planning to mitigate the potential damage.

  • Op-Ed Los Angeles Times August 16, 2012
    As Afghanistan Turns

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai's ousting of two top security officials may signal an increased tolerance for the Taliban and a closer alignment with Pakistan in the years to come.

  • Uzbek  president Karimov
    Article August 7, 2012
    Afghanistan’s Other Neighbor

    Uzbek officials have deep and valuable insights into Afghanistan. Washington would do well to pay attention.

  • Op-Ed Los Angeles Times June 27, 2012
    Cut Aid to Egypt's Generals

    In the face of a power grab by its armed forces, the United States should consider suspending some or all of its military aid to Cairo.

  • Op-Ed Los Angeles Times June 10, 2012
    Corruption Is Still Tunisia's Challenge

    Widespread corruption led to the overthrow of ben Ali's regime in Tunisia. If the current government does not tackle the problem, it could have dire consequences for Tunisia's fledgling democracy.

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