Good News from Afghanistan
As a former journalist and media manager I am well aware of the traditional saying 'Only bad news is good news' – but must disagree. Journalists have to show the world as it is, as Helen Thomas, The First Lady of the White House Press Corps, told WSN TV
First Lady of White House Press Corps Helen Thomas Promoting Tolerance in the Media
This includes in the case of Afghanistan getting a clear picture of the 'half-full glass of reality' as well. Otherwise, the media make themselves a tool of disinformation toward the people and behave unfairly with respect to the poor and suffering people in Afghanistan. The media has the responsibility to show it all, as Helen said.
Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the Afghan National Security Advisor, complains that negative and warped media reports dominate the news and at the same time neglect how difficult it was to overcome a terror regime with stone-age aspects, and to rebuild a country with no legal system and infrastructure from scratch.
In a post-conflict situation you need between 10 to 15 years to build up a functional state including good governance. One of the mistakes was that only at the London conference in January 2006 did the international community begin to build a state structure. As a result, we will need until 2016–2021 to see real stability and will need more patience.
Most in the media forget that the rebuilding of Afghanistan only began with the new Obama administration in mid-2009/2010. In 2002, the Taliban were defeated and
from 2003 to mid-2009 the US fully concentrated on the war in Iraq. The action gap between 2002 to 2009 is the reason behind the slow progress in Afghanistan until now. It explains why progress in the country remains to date insufficient. Eight years have been lost through the inactivity of the US and its supporters. We did not do enough in providing what was needed to build up a stable state. Phase A was a disaster.
Phase B just started only months ago with planning beginning in mid-2009 and its implementation in mid-2010 when the new US President pushed for changes, implementing a better strategy and sending 50,000 more troops. And it works now. The focus of this new 'comprehensive approach' is not to kill as many of the Taliban as possible, but to build up strong Afghan military and police forces to clear and hold insurgent land in good partnership with more civilian planning and aid. This will be followed by building infrastructure and starting a normal way of life. These efforts are combined with a reintegration program for former fighters and a reconciliation process.
Phase C will start this summer with a step-by-step transition of the security responsibility from ISAF to the Afghan security forces in several selected districts, which should end in 2014.
Everybody should consider this schedule and the long action gap when measuring progress in Afghanistan.
However, several positive things have been reached with many more to follow within the coming years.
Paul D. Miller wrote in his excellent essay, 'Finish the Job' in Foreign Affairs that Afghanistan in 2001 had 'Somalian anarchy, Haitian poverty, Congolese institutions, Balkan fractiousness, and a North Korean style government'. He listed many details of progress, which we add to our list below (January/February 2011, page 51–65).
Here are some good news about Afghanistan benchmarked to the sad reality in 2001:
Better Mood of the People
In 2010 47 percent of Afghans said that their country was moving in the right direction. This figure has increased since 2008 (38 percent) and 2009 (42 percent), according to the Asia Foundation Report Survey 'Afghanistan in 2010'.
Lack of security is the biggest problem for 37 percent. Unemployment and infrastructure come next (28 percent) followed by too few roads (24), too little water (22) and not enough clinics (17).
GDP and Growth
In 2001, Afghanistan was the seventh-poorest country in the world. In 2002 GDP per capita was only $176. In 2002 the GDP grew by 29 percent and on average 15 percent from 2001 to 2006, 13.5 percent in 2009 and 9 percent in 2010. Now GDP per capita stands at $1000.
Afghans subsisted on only 48 cents a day. Income has now increased from $185 in 2002 to $500 in 2009. Still, it remains one of the poorest countries on globe.
Roads and Airports
Paved roads contribute significantly to security and improve the quality of life for Afghans.
Roads affect commerce, access to schools, medical clinics and allow the government to provide services to the populace.
There were very few paved roads in late 2002 (13 percent). Those that were paved were impassable due to rocks, potholes and complete lack of maintenance.
Since 2002, more than 2,900 km of roads have been paved (33 percent in total) with 7,000 km of roads improved. The roads total 42.000 km.
The improvements in roads have significantly reduced travel times to key population centers in Afghanistan. In 2002 the drive from Kabul to Jalalabad took six hours; at the end of 2010, the drive took two hours. In 2002, the drive from Kabul to Kandahar took 17 hours; at the end of 2010, the drive time was reduced to six hours.
There were only eight airplanes in 2001; now there are 46 airports, five licensed national airlines and 150,000 passengers per year.
Electricity is a sign of progress and allows the Afghan government to reach into homes and expand influence.
The capacity to distribute electricity has more than tripled since 2003, from less than 1.5 million Afghans to greater than 4.5 million.
Communication (Mobile Phones and Internet)
In 2001, less than one million Afghans had a mobile phone. By the end of 2010, more than 13 million had mobile devices. This represents roughly half of the population.
The area of coverage with respect to population coverage is more than 21 million Afghans, or about 80 percent of the nation.
One million now use the internet.
Only 13 percent of the population had clean water. Donors spent $312 million on water projects, and the number of Afghans with access to water has doubled.
Only 12 percent of Afghans had access to sanitation in 2001. Now access is at 45 percent.
Only 28 percent of Afghans over 15 years of age can read and write, which shows a dramatically low education level of two third of the population. In comparison, in Iraq 74 percent of the people can read and write.
Basic education is key for progress. Access to education is restricted by the distance to schools in some rural areas, and traditional and cultural constraints on female education. Despite these difficulties, there have been impressive gains in educational development throughout Afghanistan.
In 2001, only 1.1 million children were enrolled in primary and secondary education.
By the end of 2010, nearly 7.5 million children were enrolled.
Only about 50,000 girls were enrolled in 2001.
Approximately 2.7 million girls (37 percent) were enrolled in these schools in 2010.
More than 147,000 teachers have been trained.
Nearly 9,000 schools have been built since 2001.
The number of students at institutes of higher education and universities grew from only 4,000 students in 2001 to 75,000 in 2009, among them 35 percent are women.
The highest infant mortality in the world with 165 infants deaths per 1,000 live births. This number has fallen to 151.
The shortest life expectancy with 42 years has now increased to 45 years.
By 2008, 80 percent of the population had access to basic healthcare.
Children have been immunized against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus.
Only one TV station existed in 2001.
The people of Afghanistan are able to receive information due to a steady growth of television and radio outlets.
There are presently more than 75 active TV channels and 175 radio stations throughout the country.
The number has grown by an average of nine television channels and 20 radio stations each year since 2002.
The media industry generates approximately $75–$100 million of revenue per year.
500 newspapers have been founded and represent a diverse media landscape in Afghanistan.
They can report critically towards the government as well.
Participation of the Citizenry and Democracy
Afghanistan has now one of the most progressive constitutions in the region.
People have been able to vote freely in several elections.
In October 2004, over 8 million Afghans voted in the first-ever presidential election. In September 2005, more than 6.4 million voted for the nation’s legislature – the first free election since 1973. According to the Asia Foundation, 76 percent were satisfied with democracy.
In 2001, girls were sold at sex markets when their parents actively opposed the Taliban. Women had no rights.
18 percent of the employees in the Foreign Office are women now.
They can even join the Afghan National Army and become officers.
27 percent of the members of parliament are women, which is the highest number in the region and is topped only in Asia by Singapore.
One governor is a women (Habiba Sorabi from Bamiyan province), as are many doctors or teachers.
In 2009–2010, the Afghan Counter Narcotics Criminal Justice Task Force (CJTF) dealt with 395 cases involving 502 suspects. The Primary Courts convicted 440 drug traffickers.
In 2005, the court only managed to secure 36 convictions.
The CJTF are also capable of securing convictions against individuals previously considered ‘untouchable.’ Last year 21 public officials were convicted of drug trafficking offences including commanding officers within the army and police.
The arrest in 2009 of the head of a major drug trafficking network was an example of how effective the CJTF has become since it was established in 2005. This drug trafficer was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
For the first time in December of last year, Ministry of Interior units, mentored by the international community, planned and executed an ‘all Afghan’ intelligence-led operation which resulted in the seizure and destruction of 41 tons of refined hashish.
The number of chance narcotics findings during security operations has increased 250% from 2009 to 2010, thus proving the correlation between security and narco-trafficking. As security improves, narco-trafficking decreases.
Total opium seizures recorded by IJC decreased slightly from 2009 to 2010 from 102,427 kg to 85,006 kg. At the same time, heroin seizures increase sharply from 1,324 kg, worth $2.8 million to 14,795 kg, worth $43 million.
Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has fallen by more than a third since 2007, down from 193,000 hectares to 123,000 hectares, and is now at the lowest level since 2005.
Much of this decline has been the result of the work of Governor Mangal in Helmand, where more than two thirds of all cultivation in Afghanistan in 2008 occurred.
His comprehensive approach to counter narcotics, supported by the international community, has helped reduce cultivation in the province by 37%.
The increase in opium prices, as a combination of reduced supply from blight and effective law enforcement operations, led to a situation where smugglers had to pay famers 160% more than in 2009 for their supply, yet the buyers in neighboring countries are paying the same as in 2009.
This has resulted in a 50% drop in insurgent revenue from opium.
There were 3.8 million Afghans in neighboring countries and 1.2 million displaced within in 2001.
One year later, two million have returned and 750,000 displaced persons went home.
But still more than two million live in Pakistan and Iran.
Afghan and coalition forces have applied continuous pressure to the insurgency throughout the winter months. Operations reports from mid-December through mid-February highlight this pressure.
In that 90-day period, Afghan and coalition forces conducted more than 1,800 operations, captured or killed more than 350 insurgent leaders, and captured over 2,000 insurgents in total.
The current percentage of partnered operations has steadily increased throughout the theater.
As of January 2011, the percentage of partnered operations is 100% in Regional Command North, South and Capital, 80% in Regional Command West, 75% in Regional Command Southwest, and 63% in Regional Command East.
ISAF and Civilian Support Increased
The ISAF operation started with only 5,000 soldiers focused in the capital between 2002–2005. With 140,000 men and women, now from 49 countries, this international force is stronger than ever before and can do its job throughout the country for the first time since eight months. Also the number of civilian supporters
The Afghan National Army and Police
The Afghan National Security Force has grown more than 40 percent since November 2009.
This growth equates to nearly 80,000 additional Afghan security personnel.
The Afghan National Army (ANA) strength now stands at 152,000 and the Afghan National Police (ANP) has 119,000 militia policemen, thus a total of 270,000 men. 34,500 are in training now. At the end of 2011, Afghanistan will have 305,000 members of its own security forces. The build-up is progressing better tha
n planned. But the quality has to be improved as many soldiers can neither read nor write, and the eight-month training is too short. After the units have come into action, know-how will increase including partnering and mentoring by ISAF officers.
It is critical to hand over the security responsibility to the Afghans themselves.
Re-Integration of Insurgents
850 former insurgents have passed the reintegration program in the last eight months according to ISAF. The Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program has changed the balance of power in several districts in favor of the government.
In March 2011, President Hamid Karzai will announce the first districts where the full responsibility for security will be handed over step-by-step from ISAF to the Afghan National Army and Police. This process will take between 18 to 24 months for each district and will be mentored by ISAF. In a cascade, all districts and provinces will follow, so that in 2014 almost all will be secured by the Afghans themselves.
Time Is Running Against the Taliban
Some Afghan Taliban think: “Americans own the watches, but we’ve got the time.” This is the wrong perception. Time is running against the insurgents, as the summary of progress since 2010 will transform Afghanistan step by step from the stone age to increased security, education, jobs and new growth. The Taliban with their old stone-age concepts have shown how bad life can be when they rule. More than 90 percent do not want a return. And no country supports them. They will lose and peace will prevail at the Hindukush in some years from now.