Afghanistan after a Decade: Progress and Challenges Ahead

Dinoj Kumar Upadhyay*

It has been almost a decade since the international community with mandate of the United Nations has intervened in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime, dismantle the web of terror, and above all to rebuild its economy, state institutions, and polity. The consensus emerged in the international community to fight the war against terrorism and also for providing assistance for post-war reconstruction and development of Afghanistan was unprecedented. Currently, more than 130,697 ISAF troops from 48 countries are deployed, and almost every major international development organization has been engaged in humanitarian and development activities in the country. According to Donor Financial Review 2009, Ministry of Finance, Afghanistan, the international community has pledged to provide $ 62 billion ($1241 per Afghan) in assistance to Afghanistan since 2001. Much water has flowed since fall of the Taliban regime, and Afghanistan has witnessed numerous changes and development in its polity, society, economy, and strategic, both regional and global, milieu over last ten years. After a decade long engagement, now deadline has been set to withdraw the international security force and formally transfer the responsibility of security of country to Afghan national army and police. Speculations are rife whether the international community, particularly the United States and European countries, is going to abandon the country again and flow of development assistance would gradually decline as their geostrategic objectives are achieved. Experts on Afghan affairs also call for exploring alternative security arrangement in case of withdrawal and diversifying domestic revenues for meeting the public expenditure and facilitating the reconstruction and development. In such a scenario, the article intends to take an account of progress made by Afghanistan in a decade and what are the major challenges the country would face in times to come.

Progress So Far
Building the effective, efficient, and legitimate state institutions are central to maintaining durable peace and security as well as reconstruction and development process in Afghanistan. In 2001, Afghanistan was a classical case of state failure. Years of war and lawlessness had destroyed the entire country and state was unable to provide any welfare services to its citizens. Following September 11, 2001, and its subsequent events, intervention of the international community was indispensable in Afghanistan not only for humanitarian reasons but also for security of world community. International community led by the United States took the responsibility of security and peace, endeavored to build the state institutions, and facilitate the reconstruction and development process. It seems axiomatic today to say that the country has achieved considerable progress. A constitution based on the broad principles of constitutionalism has been adopted and a democratically elected government at the helm of the country. New constitution is broad-based and intends to incorporate interests of all sections of society and provisions of equal rights for men and women, individual liberty freedom of express and association, the right to vote and stand for office, property, and religious freedom. A political design and structure for establishing unified system of governance and facilitating unification of the country has already in place. Institutions of professional national army and police have been established. According to Brooking Afghanistan Index, the strength of the Afghan national Army is 164,003 in April 2011 and the Afghan National Police is around 1,22,000. Thus, combined strength of security forces would be 286,003. Started from the scratches, foundations of modern judiciary have already been laid down and judges had been trained and laws and infrastructure of modern judicial system has been gradually developing.

Establishing law and order and reaching out to people in rural and remote areas of Afghanistan was the formidable challenges for the international community as well as national government in Kabul. To get the legitimacy for a uniform political structure from the people who historically known for autonomy and tribal loyalty is not only a socio-political challenge but also is a security issue for Afghan government. The largest development and governance launched by the Afghan government so far, National Solidarity Programme (henceforth NSP) has been considerably successful in rural areas. According to Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Afghanistan, nearly 70 percent of rural communities have mobilized, and more than 25,000 have elected local councils to represent themselves. These Community Development Councils (CDCs) are engaged in planning and implementing development projects at the local level of society and it is reported that over 55,000 subprojects made possible by block grants that have already supplied more than $ 800 million to community-driven rural reconstruction and development. The NSP has laid the foundations for local governance in almost 361 districts and every province in the country. An Impact Evaluation Study conducted a group of researchers in villages finds that the programme is considerably successful in improving people perceptions of their economic conditions and of government representatives and officials and even some non-governmental actors. Its observation on gender empowerment is encouraging. People participation particularly women participation has been significantly enhanced. The NSP creates new village institutions for women, increases men‟s openness to women participating in local governance and decision making, and improves the responsiveness and accountability of local leaders to women‟s needs [1]. Such a change in attitude is remarkable in Afghan society and governance at the grassroots level.
Considering scenario a decade before and fragile security environment, reconstruction, and development appears to be a significant success. National economy was entirely ruined and only monoculture of opium production had flourished before 2001. Basic infrastructure even for survival of human beings was negligible. War had rendered millions to flee in neighboring countries. Now, much has been changed for better. Though Afghanistan has not joined the league of developed nations, basic facilities, road, public health, education, etc has really improved. Report of Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate, Evaluating U.S. Foreign Assistance to Afghanistan published on 8 June 2011, does not paint a gloomy picture of progress made by Afghanistan and states that the country has achieved „some real successes‟. Paul D. Miller, who was director for Afghanistan in the US National Security Council under President George W Bush and Barack Obama argues in his article, published in Foreign Affairs, January/February 2011, result of one of the largest interventions of international community for reconstruction and development, relief in the world, was „an unheralded and dramatic success‟. Afghani-stan is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world averaging 13.5 percent of annual growth; GDP growth was around 15 percent in 2003, around 16 percent in 2005 and after a drought in 2008, it again reached to 20 percent in 2009. Average growth of 8 percent is forecasted for next two years. Total GDP has quadrupled since 2002. The share of opium in GDP got squeezed as opium production substantially declined by half and 20 of 34 provinces are poppy free.

United States‟ Geological Survey estimates up to 36.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the northern region of Afghanistan and oil up to 3.6 billion barrels.

After 10 years, there has been a sevenfold increase in the number of children attending school and significant improvement in health care. By 2008, 80 percent of the population had access to basic health services, and Afghan children were immunized against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus at the same rate as children in the rest of the world. The infant mortality rate deceased by a third and life expectancy moved up-ward. Today one third of roads in the country were paved by 2008 against 13.3 percent in 2001. Uses of telecom services have spectacularly risen, around three quarters of population have access to telecom services in 2009. Access to water is more than doubled, and electricity & sanitation also has improved significantly since the fall of the Taliban regime [2].
The Discovery of huge sources of minerals, natural gas and oil rekindles new hope for this war-ravaged country. The New York Times report, 14 June 2010 estimated worth of these minerals gas and oil is more than $ 1 trillion and reports from the Pentagon says that unexpectedly vast deposits of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium can funda-mentally transform the Afghan economy and have potential to develop a viable and vibrant mining industry in the country. For instance, lithium is of enormous significance because it is well suited to light-weight energy storage, thus it has been used in mobile phone and laptop batteries as well as electric car batteries. As the threat of climate change looms large and emphasis has been given for clean energy technologies, lithium can be a critical element for the energy-efficient equipment too. Afghanistan is also endowed with natural gas and oil. The United States‟ Geological Survey estimates up to 36.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the northern region of Afghanistan and oil up to 3.6 billion barrels. Due to wars and political instability, the country remains still unexplored, though no one denies hidden deposits of natural resources.
Beyond any doubt, these minerals and petroleum are sources of massive revenues to generate viable state-hood for Afghanistan and have the potential to attract investment on a large scale. The Afghan government begins to seek foreign direct investment in the sectors and its share in GDP was 9 percent in 2009. Turkey is the largest investor so far, followed by USA, China and UAE. The United States, the largest donor of development assistance, will be the major source of investment in minerals and natural gas in the future, as these discoveries definitely prompt USA to think beyond the geopolitical interest in the country. Chinese, European, and some major Indian companies are also inclined to invest in the mining and natural gas sectors of the economy. China has agreed to invest around $ 3 billion in copper mines and major Indian steel companies have been shortlisted for the iron ore industries.
For evaluating the impacts and assess psyche of the nation, surveys conducted by news agencies and non-governmental organization such ABC news, BBC, ARD and the Asia Foundation show the rise of people faith in the government system and ongoing political process. ABC news and BBC‟s survey shows that 70 percent people believe that the country is on the right path of progress and only 21 percent people think the country is going in wrong direction. People opinion appears to be positive on the reconstruction and development process. 69 per cent of respondents see improvement in schools, 50 percent in health clinic, 56 percent in road and 46 percent in police. People opinion mentioned in Human Development Report 2007 of Afghanistan shows 85 percent of respondents agree on whether they have access to state courts (41 percent strongly agree and 44 somehow agree). Last year survey of Center for International Private Enterprise and Charney Research (CIPE) 2010, points out that three-forth of respondents were hopeful about economic growth of country and more than half felt that economy was better than previous year. This positive opinion reflects the positive changes happened in the country. Once Afghans were deemed as lawless tribes living in Paleolithic ages of civilization and democratic values and good modern institutions of governance are not considered to be compatible with their nature and society. Despite system lacunas, their responses to democratic process were tremendous. These favorable opinions would provide not only political legitimacy to democratic process but also impetus to social unification and nation-building. Contrary to conventional wisdom on Afghan national psyche against presence of foreign powers on their soils, presence of ISAF is well tolerated and people believe that they are here to stabilize our country.
Challenges Ahead
As discussed above, Afghanistan has made measurable progress in state-building, setting up a democratic polity, human development, and building basic infrastructure since 2002. Today country is on the march of progress. There are still a number of challenges that impinge on economic development, state-building, and human development. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest and most volatile countries in the world. Security is still prime concern for the government and the international community. The security situation has continued to deteriorate in many parts of the country, the overall number of security incidents having increased by 69 percent in 2010 compared to previous year (Afghanistan Conflict Monitor, 15th November 2010) [3]. In many parts of the country, a sense of insecurity among people is rife. It has often been reported that the insurgents still kill children, put poison in the food of school girls, throw acid in the face of school girls, and burn schools. Taliban still holds sway in remote areas of the country and runs their parallel security and judicial system. Security forces got bigger, still their performance has not reached to at the level to adequately manage the law and order. High level of corruption, illiteracy, violence of human rights, drug abuse, etc has been regularly reported. A sense of professionalism and virtues of modern bureaucracy are still missing. Afghan police, which is more significant than army for maintaining law and order and internal security is low-paid and ill-equipped. The current government system of Afghanistan is riddled with corruption and malpractices. Afghanistan ranks 176, third from the bottom on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, 2010. Kleptocrat-ic elites are fulcrum of graft and greed and controls international contracts across the country.

Contrary to conventional wisdom on Afghan national psyche against presence of foreign powers on their soils, presence of ISAF is well tolerated and people believe that they are here to stabilize our country.

Here it is worth to be discussed that excess reliance on international development assistance has wider and long-term implications for the state-building process. According to the World Bank, an estimated 97 percent of Afghanistan‟s GDP is derived from spending related to the international military and donor community presence. Afghanistan could suffer a severe economic depression when foreign troops leave in 2014. These trends would undermine extractive power of the state and its independent role in international community. In addition, warlords, feudal culture and corruption are severe impediments to nascent democracy and democratic process.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy and also provides employment and livelihood to 80 percent of population. But, only 12 percent of land is arable and 6 percent is irrigated. Discovery of minerals offers some hope of revenues generation and development industries in the country, but hostile security environment and regional politics are conducive for investment.
The geostrategic location of Afghanistan has proved a bane for it so far. Great powers and later super powers rivalries and regional strategic dynamics immensely contributed to state failure and social and political fragmentation throughout its history. The current international system is qualitatively different from the Cold War, but regional powers could not reconcile their diverging interests to constructively contribute to a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. The region has immense potential to develop intra regional trade and as Afghanistan, is at the pivot, would be greatly benefitted.

Concluding Remarks: Prospects for Future
To sum up, hope to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan has not despaired yet. Afghanistan figures still high on the strategic priorities of the United States and the major European countries. Security strategy of the United States or European security strategy explicitly recognizes the threats emanating from failed or fragile states pose serious implications for their society and national security and spillover effects of socio-political instability and underdevelopment have been felt beyond national boundaries, therefore, call for to take comprehensive measures both security and development to quell these threats. It is evidently possible that they would avoid heavy military engagement but supply of development assistance would not be stop in future. The United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization indicated that there would not be a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014. Now much of onus lies with national government and leaders to strengthen governance and democracy, thus dividends of development can reach to common man. It is not expected from a foreign power to unify a socially fragmented country, rather is primary task of national leadership and government to bring back all sections of the society in the nation-building and development process. Impacts of development assistance ought not to be evaluated in isolation. International development assistance yield positive results in fragile countries if prerequisites like institutional set up, socio-political stability and good governance, coordination, active participation of civil society organizations and transparency exist there. The international community and Afghan government need to infuse advance information and communication technologies to strengthen governance and provide basic services to people in rural areas. Common wisdom on development says poverty, deprivation, and underdevelopment exist due to not only lack of resources but also lack of good and effective institutions of governance. Dividends of democracy and development must be percolated to bottom level of the society, only then „hearts and minds‟ of Afghan people can be won and peace would be durable and development would be inclusive. PR
* Currently pursuing Ph.D. in International Relations at the Center for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and also working as Research Analyst at Integrated Research and Action for Development, IRADe, New Delhi.
1) National Solidarity Programme: Randomized Im-pact Evaluation, URL:
2) Data has been taken from the article of Paul Mille, Report of Senate Committee (2011) and World Development Indicators (2010), Donor Financial Review (2009), Ministry of Finance, Afghanistan
3) Afghanistan Conflict Monitor, School of International Studies, Simon Fraser University, Accessed on 5 November 2010, (Online: web) URL:

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