Afghanistan: Modernization Versus Obstruction
Afghanistan: Modernization Versus Obstruction.
Afghanistan's long history of tribalist structure and warlordism is not a simple nor easily defined condition that leaves itself open to ready change or modernization. Both are early human concepts of societal organization with their own advantages and negative consequences.
The social structure of 'the tribe' has with in it a strong cultural and ethnic identity that separates it from the next – even among a plurality of local tribes. Identity becomes the proprietary sense of ownership, ones place and belonging. Many tribes refer to themselves in their language as “the people”. This 'identity' while giving cohesion to the tribe itself garners a corresponding need to lessen the 'identity', in effect dehumanize, or simply consider the people of any neighbouring tribe as inferior. In the isolated geographical area of tribal Afghanistan there is the historic and immediate ethnocentrism vying with another equally immediate tribal ethnocentrism.
The history of Afghanistan is a who's who of dynastic or familiar rule which for those periods brought some semblance of order and social cohesion, and for some an attempt to remove the traditional isolation and bring about modernization policy... but, none for long had themselves been capable of defeating the innate tribalism and it's corresponding ethnocentric outlook. As each dynasty failed or was removed through war the tribes fell back to self-sufficiency and warlordism.
Today, with the aid of NATO and U.S. government Afghanistan is in the midst of a return to national government after what could be considered 37 years of civil war. Standing in the face of this attempt to promote nationalism and a unified government representing all tribes is the Taleban. A tribalist Pashtun ethnocentric religious organization who's primary objective is to carve out a nation of their own, or in liu of that, establish their conservative interpretation of Islam, define Shari'a law and control the social, religious and economic expression of Afghanistan.
The tools the Taliban are using to defeat the progressive and modernizing government of Hamid Karzai, (himself an ethnic Pashtun of the Popalzai tribe), is the weaponization of the age old tribal rifts and the religion of Islam. Conversely, the Karzai government tries to unite the tribes and with the help of the rest of the world strives to modernize and improve the poor conditions prevalent in Afghanistan in part due to the aforementioned 37 years of near constant, not so civil, warfare.
The U.S. and NATO led U.N. International Security Assistance Force have been in Afghanistan for 9 years now working and dying beside like minded Afghanis from both the civil and military population. Every one is asking, “have we been successful”, “are we making a difference”. So how has Afghanistan changed in part due to the contribution of so many lost lives?
There has never been an effective police force but thanks to the efforts of the Afghanistan Police program and the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, administered by the U.N. Development Program. the number of trained police entering the Afghanistan National Police force has exceeded 80,000 and hopes are that number will grow to 160,000 by 2013.
After the removal of the Taliban in late 2001 the Afghan National Army was created. Today the ANA is 134,000 strong and the goal is to expand to 260,000. The ANA is an active partner and fights along side NATO and U.S. troops.
Building up Afghanistan's civil infrastructure has been a major goal. infrastructure is still a large problem. A third of the country has no access to a regular electricity supply, but that has improved from 42% three years ago. Telecommunications has improved dramatically, internet access is growing and a national satellite network is being commissioned. More than 10,000 kilometers of road have been built or improved since the Taliban fell. And at least 3,000 kilometers more are under construction.
Afghanistan’s agriculture sector has greatly improved, with over 140 farm markets constructed and 2.5 million Afghans benefiting from irrigation and road projects linking farms to market. 4,000 acres of fruit and nut orchards have been planted and more than 1 million acres of irrigation equipment has been rehabilitated,resulting in a 40 % increase in cereal production and a 46 % increase in wheat production since 2004.
After rising for many years following the fall of the Taliban, opium production has begun to show a decline from its peak in 2007. According to EU figures however, 10% of households are still involved in growing the crop. Most opium is grown in the seven areas where security is worst.
Infant mortality has barely changed since the war began, but child immunisation programmes are saving the lives of about 35,000 children a year. In Helmand a new district hospital and 45 clinics have been built.
The adult literacy rate in Afghanistan is one of the worst in the world - but the youth literacy rate is showing signs of improvement. New schools have been built: in Helmand there are now 93 schools, up from 34 in 2006. Latest figures show 52% of children enrolled in primary school in 2009, up from 37% in 2005. Under the Taliban, women were not allowed to vote or work and girls were not allowed to attend school. Rates of literacy and female education are now rising. Enrolled pupil numbers have grown from 1million in 2002 to around 6.6million in 2009 and about a third of those are girls.
Is this the whole story? Not by a long shot. There are still innumerable problems to resolve and more developing. But that is life for us all everywhere. We can not expect that Afghanistan will be any less free of social ills, political wrangling, corruption, drugs or even religious intolerance. We can not look to Afghanistan and not see our own fallibility in that reflection. All we can do is do what we have always done. Try. Try to make a difference in the lives of others when asked. Try to make a difference for those who do not have our advantages. And we must also try not to expect immediate success in Afghanistan's endeavour to modernize in the face of such obstruction as given by the Taleban.
In memory of all those from around the world who have given their life trying to be a positive force in Afghanistan's future.
in the morning gather thyself to purpose,
in the evening discuss the manner,
that thou hast been this day,
in word, work, and thought.
July 23, 2010
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Arlington, Virginia, United States