Mobile  |  About us  |  Photos  |  Videos  |  Subscriptions  |  RSS Feeds  |  Today's Paper  |  Classifieds  |  Contact Us
The Daily Star
THURSDAY, 24 APR 2014
01:50 AM Beirut time
Weather    
Beirut
22 °C
Blom Index
BLOM
1,214.01down
Columnist
Follow this story Print RSS Feed ePaper share this
Afghanistan has greatly changed, despite the doubts
A+ A-

For Americans weary of nearly a dozen years of war, Afghanistan often seems like a country where nothing ever changes and the same story of ethnic and tribal struggle repeats itself in an endless loop.

But Afghanistan’s demographics have changed in significant ways over the past decade. Rather than being mired in a perpetual feudal twilight, it’s actually becoming a modern country. The statistical evidence of change, gathered from USAID data and other sources, is overwhelming.

The urbanization and economic development that have reshaped Afghanistan don’t mean the country will have a bright political future, or that the Taliban won’t regain a measure of power after U.S. troops leave in 2014. But the future won’t simply be a replay of the past. The Afghanistan movie won’t just restart where it left off when the Taliban were driven from power.

“The Taliban won’t have a free run,” says a senior Indian official in a conversation I had in New Delhi about Afghanistan’s future after U.S. troops leave. “This is not 1990 again. Afghanistan is a changed place.”

The most obvious change is urbanization. Close to half the population now live in cities and towns. Kabul is a city of 5 million people, and the populations of Herat, Jalalabad and Kandahar have all tripled in the last decade. This urbanization weakens ethnic and tribal affiliations, and helps women get access to jobs and education.

The country, while still primitive in some rural areas, is also getting plugged into the global grid. More than 20 million people, or two-thirds of the country, now have access to mobile phones, compared to zero a decade ago. Saad Mohseni, who runs MOBY Group, the country’s biggest media company, estimates that 60 percent of the population watches some television each week, and nearly 95 percent have access to radio.

All the billions that America pumped into the country helped foster corruption, to be sure, but the money didn’t all vanish into bank accounts in Dubai. GDP per capita has increased nearly fivefold since 2002, with an annual growth rate of about 9 percent. Only 18 percent of the population has access to reliable electrical power, but that’s triple what it was a decade ago.

The improvements in health are striking, even after a decade of war. Access to basic health services has risen from 9 percent in 2001 to more than 60 percent today. Life expectancy has increased from 44 years to 60 in the last decade; the maternal mortality rate has declined 80 percent; the under-5 mortality rate has dropped 44 percent. The number of primary health care facilities has increased nearly fourfold.

Afghanistan has rebuilt an education system that had nearly stopped functioning. In 2002, only 900,000 students were in primary school, nearly all boys. Today, 8 million students are in school, more than a third of them girls. University enrollment jumped from 8,000 in 2001 to 77,000 in 2011, and about 20 percent of these higher-education students are women. Literacy is currently about 35 percent, but it’s expected to grow to 55 percent in 10 years and 80 percent in 20, unless disaster strikes.

The gains women have made are an especially visible index of change, but also a reminder that progress is fragile and could be reversed by the Taliban. In addition to the vastly larger number of female students, women now hold 27 percent of the seats in parliament, three Cabinet posts and 120 judicial positions. By the end of this year, at least 30 percent of government employees will be women.

Afghanistan is a democracy, too – corrupt and capricious, but for now it’s probably the freest country in the neighborhood, compared to Pakistan, Iran and the central Asian nations. It has a free and independent media, producing everything from an Afghan knockoff of “American Idol” to situation comedies to versions of Sesame Street dubbed into Dari and Pashto.

For many Americans, the Afghan War feels like defeat – a painful waste of money and lives. Many people felt that way when the Vietnam war ended, little imagining the economic boom that would eventually come to that country after so many decades of brutal suffering. History is mysterious that way; sometimes the deeper transformations are invisible at the time.

Who can say what the future holds for Afghanistan? Surely, the country’s turmoil and suffering won’t end when U.S. troops depart; the situation may get much worse. But it’s a mistake to assume that nothing changed during America’s years of struggle there, or that many of those changes weren’t for the good.

David Ignatius is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 17, 2013, on page 7.
Home Columnist
 
     
 
social change / Afghanistan / United States of America
Advertisement
Comments  

Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.

Disclaimer: Comments submitted by third parties on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual(s) whose content is submitted. The Daily Star accepts no responsibility for the content of comment(s), including, without limitation, any error, omission or inaccuracy therein. Please note that your email address will NOT appear on the site.

comments powered by Disqus
More from
David Ignatius
An Iran deal is close, but we’re not there yet
Echoes of 1914 characterize the Ukraine crisis
Putin will keep rolling, until Obama tells him ‘no more’
China moves to the scary side of its finances
Putin takes a page out of the American playbook
Advertisement


Baabda 2014
Advertisement
Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Linked In Follow us on Google+ Subscribe to our Live Feed
Multimedia
Images  
Pictures of the day
A selection of images from around the world- Wednesday, April 23, 2014
View all view all
Advertisement
Rami G. Khouri
Rami G. Khouri
Israel shows Zionism’s true colors
Michael Young
Michael Young
For Christians, blessed are the dividers
David Ignatius
David Ignatius
An Iran deal is close, but we’re not there yet
View all view all
Advertisement
cartoon
 
Click to View Articles
 
 
News
Business
Opinion
Sports
Culture
Technology
Entertainment
Privacy Policy | Anti-Spamming Policy | Disclaimer | Copyright Notice
© 2014 The Daily Star - All Rights Reserved - Designed and Developed By IDS