KABUL, Afghanistan– To understand Afghanistan today, one must understand the nation’s past. Afghanistan won its independence from Great Britain in 1919, but in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded in order to support the newly-formed communist regime. The Soviets withdrew 10 years later because of pressure from mujahedin rebels, who were against communism and were backed by other nations.
After several civil wars, the Taliban, which focused on bringing an end to the civil unrest and anarchy within the country, took over in 1996.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, a United States, Allied and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance force took down the Taliban because of their allegiance to Osama Bin Laden. With the help of the United Nations, the country was able to start a political reconstruction encompassing a new constitution in 2001, a presidential election in 2004 and National Assembly elections in 2005.
The new president, Hamid Karzai, was the first democratically-elected president in the country’s history and was re-elected in 2009. The stabilizing central government is still struggling with subduing a resurgent Taliban in southeastern Afghanistan.
According to the National Human Development Report (NHDR) of Afghanistan, the lowering life expectancy, literacy rate and economic income of Afghan citizens have caused the country to drop in ranking in the United Nations global human development index. Only ahead of Burkina Faso, Mali, Sierra Leone and Niger, Afghanistan is ranked as the 174th country out of 178 in the human development report; this statistic was expected to improve, but has not.
Around 1,600 Afghan women die per 100,000 child births (nearly one in 50 women don’t survive), yet they are still considered to be making progress in reducing maternal and child mortality rates. In Afghanistan, the life expectancy dropped from 44.5 years of age to 43.1 years of age from 2003 to 2005, leaving Afghans with nine years less than people in other underdeveloped countries.
Over the past couple decades, Afghanistan has not been able to decrease the prevalence of extreme poverty and hunger, even though they have continuous economic growth. As the poorest country in Asia, its annual gross domestic product per capita is $964; less than 30% of the population of 24.5 million has clean drinking water. Around 6.6 million people do not even have the minimum amount of food to sustain themselves.
Nearly 24% of households are consuming low-quality food and half of children under the age of five are underweight.
Afghanistan also has one of the lowest adult literacy rates in the developing world because of the multiple decades of armed conflict they’ve endured. From 2003 to 2005, the literacy rates actually fell among adults over the age of 15, declining from 28.7% to 23.5%. The amount of women receiving an education in Afghanistan is around half that of men; generally speaking, women have the disadvantage when it comes to employment and health services.
With armed conflict winding down in Afghanistan, less and less aid is being sent to the country, but they clearly still have not fully recovered. To help, North American Treaty Organization Training Mission-Afghanistan has given combat first aid lessons to Afghan police so they can learn to help themselves.
On Monday, a package of aid initiatives worth $300 million was sent to Afghanistan by the Barack Obama administration to help them prepare for the withdrawal of foreign troops and the reduction in foreign aid to the country. The goal is to help their government to increase revenue and become a part of the World Trade Organization, but Congress has cut civilian aid to Afghanistan in half.
With all this in mind, the U.S. is working for the best interest of Afghanistan and plans to provide around 2 billion to the country by the end of 2015.
– Kenneth Kliesner