I was born and raised during a critical period of Afghan history. I have witnessed many things throughout the last three decades in Afghanistan. I witnessed horrible bloodshed and genocide in the capital city Kabul. As a student, I witnessed the discrimination and torture of people in public and looked on hopelessly as people were beheaded.
The Taliban regime was the worst era of Afghan history. Millions of people were displaced or emigrated. Thousands of people were killed. And Afghans were losing hope.
Then 9/11 happened. The attacks were a tragedy for the United States and the West. But for Afghans, who suffered the most at the hands of the Taliban and al Qaida, it represented an unlikely opportunity.
In October 2001, when the US and its allies engaged in a military campaign in Afghanistan, the hopes of Afghans blossomed. I was living in Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan, a few miles away from the al Qaida stronghold of Tora Bora. I was one of the many young Afghans who supported the campaign.
The US-led and Afghan-backed mission succeeded in removing the Taliban, al Qaida and their foreign allies within six weeks.
After the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan started from scratch. After three decades of war, the infrastructure and government system had completely collapsed. This was not reconstruction, it was construction of everything from the foundations. In the last ten years, Afghanistan has grown to where it is today, a country with social, cultural, political, economic and security achievements.
Freedom on the March – 12 Changes for a Better Afghanistan
- During the Taliban regime, free media, freedom of speech and other communication tools were forbidden. As a student, I was interested in kids magazines and had to smuggle them in. But today we have thousands of print publications, over 75 active TV channels and more than 175 radio stations; an unbelievable achievement.
- The Taliban regime was recognized by only three countries. Today most countries officially recognize Afghanistan. It has 56 diplomatic missions around the world and bilateral and strategic ties with several countries.
- While there are complaints today about Afghan governance and democracy, we must remember that the Taliban established a dictatorial Emirate. Now, Afghanistan has a constitution, a democratically elected president and cabinet, an elected parliament and provincial councils, of which 25% are women.
- A lot remains to be done to empower civil society. But let’s not forget that the Taliban era closed political parties, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and civil society organizations. Now, we have hundreds of them.
- While we previously did not have standard roads and highways, today thousands of kilometers of roads and highways have been reconstructed and paved.
- Thousands of schools - which were closed by the Taliban - have been reopened. Today, according to the Afghan Ministry of Education, over 8 million Afghan boys and girls go to school. Ten years ago, this number was roughly half a million – and almost exclusively boys. This means that more than a quarter of Afghans are receiving an education.
- Bridges and dams destroyed by the Taliban have been rebuilt. Hundreds of clinics and hospitals have been constructed.
- Five major telecommunications companies have connected millions of Afghans with the rest of the world through mobile phones and the internet. We now have a functioning banking system and massive investment in the mining sector.
- Millions of children across the country are getting vaccinated against epidemic diseases and some 80% of the population has access to basic health services.
- The National Development Strategy finalized in 2008 has laid the foundation for the development of Afghanistan. In 2001, we had an income per capita of $150. Today that figure is $600. Our GDP has increased from $3 billion to $18 billion. Afghanistan has joined all regional economic forums. Trade between Afghanistan and neighboring countries has increased to $2.5 billion per year.
- After the Taliban regime, mujihadeen militias were the biggest threat. But as part of the successful UN-led disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program, I have witnessed mujihadeen militias - and many Taliban - disarmed and reintegrated into the community.
- Over the last ten years, I have witnessed impressive achievements in the security sector. The Taliban era ousted the military and police system and implemented a militia system. When the Northern Alliance came to Kabul, they did not have an organized army or police. So the Afghan government, with the support of NATO and the European Union, started from scratch. Today we have a 305,000-strong army and police force which represent all ethnicities and tribal groups of Afghanistan.
Building a New Country
Transition is not just a process, it is about pride. It is about ownership, responsibility and authority. Every nation values ownership and sovereignty. Transition will bring that to Afghans, who have always rightfully dreamt of being the masters of their land.
Transition is something that has taken away the false propaganda of insurgents, who called Afghanistan an occupied country. By announcing the transition process, the Afghan government has proven that Afghanistan is not an occupied country; it is a free and independent country, which can decide what is in its own interests.
Afghanistan has begun to re-emerge as a country for all Afghans. After more than three decades of conflict, they have started to believe in a better future.
I think we have adequate time for the completion of transition and I believe that by the end of it, we will have the necessary security forces to protect Afghanistan.
Transition is what Afghans have asked for; this is the process that the people need. We cannot depend on the international troops forever; like every other country we have to be self-sustaining and take responsibility as the owners of our future.
With reconciliation and reintegration, the pledges of alliance countries, the partnerships with NATO, the US and other regional countries, I believe that after 2014, we will have a safer and better Afghanistan.
However, these gains are not guaranteed; the government is not strong enough yet. Weak governance, narcotics, unresolved issues with neighboring countries, poverty and, above all, corruption will remain huge challenges. These are the issues that need to be addressed.
To achieve a successful transition, the international community should also think of civil society and political parties. Because the needs of Afghans are not those of a militarized country - but of a democratic country with a strong civil society and broad political representation.
So if the strategies and policies are carried out properly and are based on the needs of Afghans, coupled together with strong Afghan leadership, I am sure that a future Afghanistan will be able to repay the international community by contributing to international peace and security.
What Do You Think?
In the beginning, I asked if you thought the human and financial cost that NATO has invested in Afghanistan has been worth it. Please share your thoughts.
Do you think there was a sufficient change in Afghanistan, do you think there have been significant improvements in development, human rights, governance and democracy to justify the investments, and overall, do you think you have a safer world compared to 2001?
Shafiq Hamdam, an Afghan citizen, is the Media and Country Advisor to the NATO Senior Civilian Representative's Office in Kabul. He writes here in a personal capacity. This article was first published in a slightly altered form in NATO Review.
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