When back in 2002, the countries of the world had gathered in Tokyo to pledge their support to the war-ravaged Afghanistan, all the Karzai administration managed to muster up was $4.5 billion—far short of their projected need of $30 to $44 billion over a decade. The UN had estimated that a minimum of $10 billion was need for a period of five years. Since then, no considerable progress has been made as not all of the pledged money has been provided to the Karzai government. More ironically, though, the amount provided hasn’t been used fully and shrewdly due to administrative incompetence, corruption and lack of suitable development projects. Likewise, many other aspects of the post-Taliban Afghanistan are havoc-wreaked.
The country’s quest against the cultivation of opium poppy, for example, has been termed as a ‘failure’ by critics. After the Taliban imposed a ban on the cultivation of opium poppy, production miraculously dropped from more than 3000 metric tons in 2000 to a mere few hundred metric tons in 2001. However, on the onset of their ouster, production skyrocketed again to reach levels higher than those of the Taliban era. By 2004, production had reached 4,200 metric tons–a 64% increase compared to 2003.
“…cultivation dropped 48% to 107,400 hectares in 2005; better weather and lack of widespread disease returned opium yields to normal levels, meaning potential opium production declined by only 10% to 4,475 metric tons…”
The reduction in production of opium poppy is not a good omen. After the demand pull inflation in opium poppy prices in the international market, more and more Afghan farmers may restart cultivation. Also, unemployment and an ongoing drought situation in the country may provide another impetus to the cultivation and production of opium.
The healthcare sector is not faring any better as well. Afghanistan today has the highest infant, child and maternal mortality rates, and the lowest literacy and life expectancy rates in the world. It also has the highest proportion of disabled people. Around more than four million people are still living endangered by landmines across the country, despite the successful ongoing demining process. Around 20,000 people die each year due to tuberculosis (TB).
Corruption in government offices is another factor which haunts average Afghans. Paying Bribes to officials to get something done is a common practice. This is fueled by the rising commodity prices and low employee wages—a mere $44 a month. When last year wages were slightly increased, the Afghan government faced severe criticism from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank which were advocating that wage increase be funded from government income, not from international donations.
An estimated 30 percent of residents of the capital Kabul are unemployed and 37 percent rely on aid to meet their daily requirements.
The influx of repatriating refugees from Pakistan and Iran, which was once deemed a burden on the country’s fledgling economy, is now being neutralized by the expatriation of disillusioned people. At major cities like Mazar and Kabul, a shortage of passport booklets was reported in the pretext of soaring demands as people head for employment and subsistence abroad.
The Taliban’s “spring offensive” has begun and has so far greatly deteriorated the security situation. The chairmen of the Upper House, Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, several provincial governors, police chiefs, and ISAF and American troops have all been targeted since March. These “Iraqi-style” attacks are expected to intensify as the year progresses.
Currently, there are around 1800 armed groups consisting of 100,000 men in Afghanistan despite the completion of the Disarmament process, DDR. This, in conjunction with the Taliban attacks, has created an air of insecurity and government vulnerability not only among ordinary Afghans, but also among international investors, impinging the economic growth.
Afghanistan has a total of 50 airports, a majority of which has been greatly damaged by the decades of war. In Mazar-i-Sharif, a major city in the North, the airport directs a total of 17 flights everyday, including those carrying food, personnel and ammunition to the ISAF forces. Commercial flights from Mazar to Kabul are rare. Those willing to fly must charter small airplanes from agencies like the World Food Program.
As a result of lack of facilities for aerial transport, economic activities involving transportation have to be carried out by road links. But this sphere of infrastructure isn’t all too good either, as a mere 13 percent of the total 21,000 kilometers of roads is paved. Major provinces including Bamian, which used to house the giant statues of the Buddha, stand totally unlinked. The recently reconstructed roads linking Kandahar, a major southern city, to Kabul are now disintegrating due to poor workmanship.
Examples of poor workmanship by foreign contractor agencies are springing from all around Afghanistan as time passes by. The Head Prosecutor’s office in Mazar is a shining example, which, after only three months of occupation, has manifested severe engineering and design flaws springing from the use of substandard materials and lack of appropriate planning.
This essentially means that the majority of donor money, which was spent through private foreign companies and NGOs, has been going to waste. The NGOs are alleged to have spent most of the money in buying Hum-V’s and staying in five-star hotels. Accordingly, former minister of plan, Ramazan Bashardost, closed down around 2,000 NGOs. This ensued a row between him and Karzai, which led the former to resign. The government, however, soon realized its negligence and decided to channel half of the aid money through private companies and NGOs and half through government projects. But many are still apprehensive about the government’s control over half of the donor money fearing malfeasance and administrative incompetence.
Ethnic favoritism and prejudices are, like the war era, still rampant in government offices and ministries. One of the most appropriate examples is the Afghan National Army, which has an overwhelmingly high Pushtoon presence–85 percent of all personnel belong to the Pushtoon ethnic group. Critics attribute this to Pushtoon ministers holding the office of Ministry of Defence over the years.
Ethnic favoritism is one of the factors which have led to incompetent individuals occupying high posts. The country in general and the government ministries in particular are facing a serious shortage of qualified workforce. The handful of skilful repatriated individuals is attracted to private firms and NGOs by the reasonable pay structure. Government vacancies are filled by “craps”.
The country’s basic services sector hasn’t developed much over the past four years either. Electricity and potable water are a problem in almost every city. Kabul, the capital, doesn’t have a 24-hour supply of electricity. Most areas get it for a few hours–every other day. Only one city, Herat, has nonstop power which is imported from the neighboring Iran.
Influx of foreign commodities to Afghanistan has crippled the already weak industry. Cars and autos, cosmetics, clothing items, stationary and schooling essentials, edibles and items of daily use from Pakistan, Iran and China are flooding the Afghan markets. Cheaper prices and better quality of these products make them highly demanded. This has led to a huge import-export gap—Exports equal $98 million while imports are more than one billion dollars a year.
Agricultural imports from Pakistan and Iran are on the increase despite the fact that the Afghan economy is agriculture-based. This may be attributed to the drought situation in the country and a lack of attention from the government. Less than 6 percent of the country’s total 12 percent arable land is cultivated. Irrigation hasn’t been improved in the past four years. Resultantly, agriculture, for its irrigation, is still totally dependent upon the winter snows and spring rains.
Nonetheless, in the face of this gloomy scenario, there have been a few achievements. The GDP per capita has increased dramatically from a little over a hundred dollars in 2001 to almost $300 in 2005—it is expected to reach $350 by the end of 2006. The current annual growth rate is in the 20%s—far ahead of its nearest rival, China’s 10%. Customs revenues have increased by 50% last year, according to a ministry of taxation report.
The country’s vast, untapped oil and gas reserves could usher in a new era of prosperity. Other natural resources like coal, iron ore, talc, sulfur, copper and precious and semi-precious stones could also prove to be significant contributors. Tourism and services, especially hospitality, can prove vital too.
Four years of relative peace and stability have proved significant for the ordinary Afghans. Cultural activities are flourishing. Young artists and musicians are springing all around. Expatriate music veterans are also coming back. Sports activities are becoming more and more popular. Afghanistan has had some achievements in the last four years in various sports disciplines including the martial arts, cricket, volleyball and soccer.
However, in order to see a visible improvement in the lives of ordinary people, the trickle-down model of economic benefit, characteristic of the Capitalist economy, has to work for many years—probably decades—in Afghanistan. This is only possible if peace, through the support of the international community, gets a chance.
 UN Office on Drug and Crime
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