Last year, when I met my class mate from Afghanistan who is presently in India to pursue her higher studies, I realized what the common people of Afghanistan have been through during the Taliban regime, the civil war and during the US invasion. Meeting her, gave me a reality check – of the past and of the present situation in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan which means the ‘land of the Afghans’ is a landlocked South-Central Asian country. An ancient centre of the Silk Route, the country has a varied political history of having experienced monarchy, republic, theocracy and communist state – all within a century – which in turn shaped its culture.
Afghanistan, now free from the repressive control of Taliban, assumed the status of ‘Islamic Republic’ in 2003 with the adoption of new constitution by ‘Loya Jirga’ (elders). It now has a bicameral legislature, consisting of the House of Elders (Meshrano Jirga) and the House of the people (Wolesi Jirga). However, due to constant civil war and slow progress rate, it is still the second least developed country of the world, with Taliban active in small pockets.
Since the late 1970s, Afghanistan is in a constant state of civil war, intervened by the Soviet Invasion in 1979 which lasted till 1989, collapse of communist government, Taliban control (1996-2001), the October 2001 invasion by U.S.A that overthrew the government of Taliban and then intervention of United Nation by creation of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to assist the Karzai government.
During its rule, which lasted till 1992, the PDPA (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) had implemented a liberal and socialist agenda to replace orthodox laws. It invited the Soviet Union to help modernize the infrastructure. The people either welcomed this progressive change or remained neutral. But its secularism agitated the conservatives, who preferred traditional Islamic laws in everyday life. As a result many groups were formed to negate their policies, some resorting to carnage. Osama bin Laden emerged as the prime leader who organized the Al-Qaida to expand anti-Soviet resistance into a pan-Islamic movement. Taliban, a movement of former “mujahideen” and religious scholars, eventually displaced the Afghan government in 1996 and controlled 95% of the territory till 2001. But when Taliban refused to hand over Al-Qaida members to USA without concrete evidence regarding their involvement in 9/11 attacks (2001), USA invaded Afghanistan to expel the Taliban government. The war continues to the present day. Barack Obama, the present US president, announced in December 2009, that he will increase the military strength in Afghanistan and then withdraw the troops after 18 months.
A reality check of the present situation:
The Afghan political situation is currently in a state of “fiasco” according to an Afghanistani observer. The political environment of Afghanistan is unstable with a lot of obstacles in the path of progress. However, with assistance of the international community, it is gradually developing and the Taliban insurgency is effectively being dealt with.
The current president, Karzai, was elected in 2004 and then re-elected in 2009. But the 2009 presidential elections demonstrated lack of security, low voter turnout, intimidation and widespread fraud. In the last decade, the politics of Afghanistan have been influenced by a lot of foreign intervention – U.S.A, NATO and U.N in order to securely democratize the country. The first parliamentary elections took place in 2005, with 28% of the elected delegates being women. This surprisingly made Afghanistan one of the top countries with respect to women representation. But the fact is that the women who are active in public life are often subjected to threats and terrorization. The conservatives have assassinated a number of high profile women but the guilty have not been identified yet. For example, the Taliban murdered Sitara Achakzai, a politician and a human rights defender in 2009 as a warning to other such active women. The political parties in Afghanistan are not legally recognized. Hence, the candidates stand independently.
There is widespread corruption in all spheres including education and health. Afghanistan is rated as the second most corrupt country of the world. According to a report by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, bribery constitutes an amount equivalent to 23% of the GDP of Afghanistan.
In spite of the sad political situation, the people of Afghanistan are proud of their country, religion (99% being Muslims), ancestral property, cultural sites and specifically their independence, though the recent wars have scathed a number of historical monuments. After Taliban’s fall, Afghanistan has witnessed progress in fields of education, health and media. But still the literacy rate of Afghanistan is very low with only 10% women having access to higher education because of poor infrastructure, orthodox thinking, cultural norms and lack of teaching staff. Outside the metropolitan cities, the tribals have a stronghold in culture and politics. Under Taliban, television broadcasting was stopped in 1996 and a lot of restrictions were imposed on print media and radio. But after its fall, development escalated, foreign trade and tourism increased, followed by betterment of finance and eventually the economy of the country grew stronger. TV, newspaper, magazines etc., became common. From having just one radio frequency, Afghanistan now has more than fifty. Freedom of speech and press was advocated in the new constitution. But even after nine years after the collapse of the Taliban, Afghanistan has an acute need of humanitarianism and development. The medical condition is deplorable. On an average, 14 children die of otherwise curable diseases, one afghan woman dies in pregnancy and one dies from tuberculosis every half an hour.
After the collapse of Taliban, the government under Karzai has upheld positive political and economic relations with USA and NATO members. USA, Japan, UK and India are among the major donors to Afghanistan. Its relations with Pakistan are in a state of flux due to Taliban and the Durand Line issue (border dispute). Nevertheless, Pakistan tries to maintain healthy economic and security relations. Afghanistan has also received constructive support from Iran and Russia. India is one of the prominent supporters of Afghanistan, having already extended economic aid worth US$1.2 billion. It also extends military support.
According to Sonia, who is a student in DU from Afghanistan, “with such high levels of development, now we can go for higher education and live without fear. But I wish that the problems like drug abuse, corruption and civil violence are tackled well by the government and some day come to an end.” Sonia is one of those who witnessed severe discrimination and oppression of women during Taliban regime. But today she lives a life of dignity under the Karzai government. The supporters of Karzai praise him for national integration efforts while critics attack him for growing corruption and drug abuse. Nevertheless, with international support, and internal cooperation, there is a ray of hope for Afghanistan’s future.