The US-led coalition deadline of transition in 2014 has encouraged the Afghan government in Kabul to prepare for resuming security responsibility.
The Afghan government in Kabul has experienced a number of initiatives as part of the security transition. First, the Afghan National Army is taking lead in securing Afghanistan. Coalition forces are switching to a support role by providing training, equipment and financial support. In addition, the Afghan National Police forces are getting more professional for security in Afghan cities. Afghans are also becoming more responsible in leading development activities.
What is Different from the 1990s?
When the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in 1989, Kabul was weak and limited to big cities; and an ideology-driven insurgency was much stronger in the country side. Unemployment was rampant; the economy was weak; and Kabul had poor relations with its neighbors, especially Pakistan.
The present Afghan government grapples with similar issues; however, they are far less threatening than they were in the 1990s. Unlike the 90s, Afghanistan is a constitutionally “Islamic Republic” defying any organized ideological confrontations.
The current Afghan government and society enjoys better relations with the international community. Most Western countries have signed strategic partnership treaties with Kabul outlining their commitment to this country well beyond 2014. Such agreements did not exist during the 90s.
Afghanistan Security Agreements with the US
In addition to the strategic partnership documents, Afghanistan and the United States are negotiating an agreement that details responsibilities of the US residual military presence in Afghanistan. NATO appears to be waiting to get into a similar contract with the Afghan government. These agreements are other positive partnerships that bring hope for a better post-2014 Afghanistan.
Experience in Governance
Although governance still needs improving, Afghan officials are becoming increasingly more professional. Civil society is getting stronger and more involved in making this work better, and Afghan media is able to address the relevant issues. Afghan women go to schools and they can been seen in parliament, schools, universities, hospitals and even in the police force.
In addition to the big political developments, progress in education, health, infrastructure development and increased trade have enhanced the economic prosperity of Afghans in the past decade.
For example, other than a few public schools and universities in 2001, Afghanistan had no private schools or investment in education. Today, many private schools complement public education in providing BA and MA degrees to many male and female students. In addition, private investment in the health sector has helped boost private health facilities across the country.
Developments in construction and infrastructure development, information technology, media and communication, banking, aviation, mining, trade and financial services have been unprecedented in Afghan history. These need to continue and most young Afghans are ever resilient to make it happen.
Ordinary Afghan Perceptions
Ordinary Afghans have mixed feelings about their future. Most recognize the developments; however, they also understand that a lot more needs to be done to keep the momentum going. Afghans want a more proactive government to provide better public services and private sector development.
A taxi driver in Kabul said: “The situation in Kabul has changed drastically. One could not go safely from east to the west of Kabul city; paved roads did not exist; having a car was a huge luxury.” He went on mentioning that “electricity was only in the palace and a few houses of the elite. Today that has changed. Ordinary Afghans have access to many of those facilities in Afghanistan.”
An Afghan civil servant said that there could be a reduction in aid-related economic activities; however, there won’t be a return to the 1990s. People have learned a lesson that divisions and civil war creates only bad things.
It seems there is a consensus among Afghans and the international community that nobody wants a return to the 1990s. Precious lives and wealth have been sacrificed and invested in bringing Afghanistan to where it is now.
Many understand the importance of the upcoming presidential elections in 2014 and the parliamentary elections in 2015. The strides made in the improvement of Afghanistan’s relation with its neighbors, the international attention and support to a budding democracy, and the increase in the rule of law, security and infrastructure should not be underestimated. Moreover, investment in the economy will have a profound impact on post-2014 stability in Afghanistan.
If unified, the majority of young Afghans are competent enough to continue on their unprecedented achievements and maintain a better country after 2014.