The withdrawal of the US troops in Afghanistan has led many to question whether the country is ready to assume the responsibility for its security without compromising the gains that were made by the US military. The US troops have made significant gains since its troops entered Afghanistan in 2001. Some of these gains include weakening the Taliban forces, developing social order, and training Afghan security forces to maintain peace in the country. The US has not fought in Afghanistan alone since it entered in 2001. NATO has also been involved in the conflict especially in training the Afghan military. Despite these gains, the problem in Afghanistan seems to be spiralling beyond the conflict with the Taliban into broader societal problems such as rapid urban growth, poverty, extreme weather conditions, the conflict between clans regarding resources, and informal insecurity amongst others. Considering all these challenges, many scholars have questioned whether the US withdraw from Afghanistan is properly timed. It is a fact that the US troops have spent more than 13 years in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban and making significant gains in the society. Though the US troops have achieved most of the milestones, there are deep societal problems in Afghanistan that threaten these gains. The withdrawal of the US another forces in Afghanistan is now complete setting a new chapter in the security of south-west Asia. The Afghan government is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring security and governance in the whole country. Furthermore, the government is expected to collaborate with its neighbours regarding its security. Looking at all these challenges, it is clear that Afghanistan is not really to assume control of its security was there are not enough societal structures and infrastructure to uphold peace and the rule of law.
Insecurity and informality in central Afghanistan
The term “informality” is controversial because it denotes a form of regulation of a region’s economy characterised by the use of informal rules. Informality in Afghanistan is connected to the lack of alternatives and severe poverty conditions. Instead of looking at informality simply regarding whether available jobs within the country or social relations can be termed as informal or formal, informality can be used to define the livelihood strategy that is applied by urban Afghans to obtain security and income. Informality is one of the best ways to understand the social conditions than those living in urban areas to go through, or to put it, in other words, the survival strategy for the urban population. In Afghanistan, most people heavily rely on family and community relationships so that they can meet their security needs to varying extents. The outcome of this is an adverse incorporation or challenging inclusion, where those who are poor trade some form of short-term security while at the same time getting long-term dependence and vulnerability (Aras & Toktas, n.d.).
This type of informal security regimes effectively replaces any formal state or state-affiliated institutions that lack the capacity, interest, or enough resources to act in a transparent manner to represent the general interest of the poor. This forces local citizens to seek security from their community networks, in informal networks, or through client relationships. Such a scenario has been the case in Afghanistan where at least 81 to 91% of the economic activities have been classified as informal (Beloglazov, 2015). In the current Afghan situation, the formal state is far from offering any form of economic or social security for the poorest populations in the country. Due to the lack of social support from the state, most people have been forced to devise their means of ensuring security under very delicate conditions without formalising rights, resulting in the possibility of becoming vulnerable in a complex system based on informality. It becomes challenging to maintain peace, law, and order because most citizens are forced to access informal sources of livelihood so that they can meet basic household expenditures. Most individuals live in informal settlements where social security is almost exclusively offered by the family, the neighbourhood community, or the wider kin (Daugirdas & Mortenson, 2015).
This situation has been complicated by decades of long instability together with extreme drought conditions that have afflicted a large number of Afghans forcing them to live in abject poverty for long periods of time. Although growing urbanisation does not significantly affect large areas of the rural Afghanistan, unplanned urbanisation has become a characteristic of Afghanistan. All these dynamics enhance the informality based social system in Afghanistan and can be traced back to the conditions of poverty that have existed in the whole country and especially in Kabul. There are a lot of problematic areas in Kabul that have engulfed a large part of the city’s population putting the livelihoods of the urban poor at great risk. These conditions indicate that the government of Afghanistan is not ready to handle its internal security obligations (Kanji, Sherbut, Fararoon, & Hatcher, 2012).
Tenure insecurity (delete/social problems)
The majority of people living Kabul have survived through constructing makeshift camps of solid housing. In most cases, this does not come with any form of legal status, but rather, is the result of a struggle for more urban space in the wake of drought and conflict whose impact has been widespread as informal settlements. People have occupied public lands and established self-building housing instead of the government providing them with housing solutions. Around 80 to 85% of Kabul’s population live in this form of informal settlements with more than 75% of individuals living in city land areas. Due to the informality of urban settlements, most people are left with a high sense of tenure insecurity. The high sense of insecurity has left many people feeling excluded from service delivery. The problems of high insecurity of tenure come together with a great backlog of service provision due to lack of infrastructure development. Most of these informal settlements in Kabul do not have basic amenities such as safe drinking water, electricity, or adequate sanitation systems. Due to the lack of access to basic government services, most people feel insecure physically and health wise and do not have faith in the government’s ability to provide them with adequate sanitation standards anytime soon (Koehler & Gosztonyi, 2014).
There are fewer opportunities for both skilled and unskilled labour in Afghanistan. Available jobs both in the private and the government sectors are irregular, and unreliable, and subjected to seasonal variance. Most people living in Afghanistan do not have access to opportunities. Most of these opportunities are highly limited to the heterogeneous sector (Motowani & Bose, 2015). Most individuals who live in Afghanistan experience many challenges in a life characterised by a lack of access to secure and constant sources of income. Income is slow, erratic, and at chronic low levels for most households. Some parts of Afghanistan such as Kabul experience extreme winter conditions. In Kabul, winter is one of the harshest time of the year for those who are poor. The price of fuel and food goes up during this time leaving children scavenging in the streets as they search for garbage that can be burnt in place of fuel. Due to the extremely cold temperatures and lack of enough shelter, those who are poor experience health risks and lack of job opportunities during the winter season (Rodriguez, n.d.). These problems are as a result of the government’s lack of capacity to provide basic services to those worked for in both urban and rural settings. The society in Afghanistan is largely made up of poor people who cannot afford basic amenities. This leaves them vulnerable to social instability, a risk factor in insecurity.
Poor urban governance contributes to insecurity in the country. The Afghan municipalities especially the Kabul municipality has been tasked with the responsibility of overseeing and planning the use of land, transport, and infrastructure, in addition to service delivery. Municipalities have the responsibility of coordinating health and education services, and housing. The challenge is that the urban planning system has malfunctioned and has become riddled with corruption, lack of commitment, and mismanagement of resources. This means that the poor urban dwellers are constantly facing severe livelihood risks pushing them further below the poverty line and forcing them to rely on informal arrangements (Seal et al., 2011). Livelihood strategies that have been used by people living in urban and rural areas are severely limited due to lack of opportunities. Insecurity of employment and tenure, seasonality of livelihood, being excluded from basic services, and poor urban governance have contributed to the social insecurity being experienced in Afghanistan. The government does not have concrete plans to deal with these issues.
The recent report released by the United Nations regarding the social conditions of Afghanistan show that even after years of American peacekeeping, Afghanistan has not developed as much as Americans and their western counterparts were hoping. Even after overthrowing the Taliban-based regime, the country is still torn by war and ranks between 173/178 countries regarding human development (Sedra, 2006). Afghans are still experiencing the same conditions that are being experienced elsewhere in East Africa by failed countries such as Somalia. The survey that was done by the United Nations shows that the country has not experienced any form of stability over the last two decades even after the intervention of the US because the Afghan government has done very little to improve the lives of the local people. There has not been any period of significant stability over the last two decades. The Afghan government has consistently neglected the local people both in urban and rural areas. The report released by the United Nations follows another one that was released in 1992 that reviewed the same atrocious conditions that are experienced by Afghan citizens. The two reports review almost the same scenario in Afghanistan meaning that very little has changed. Human development estimates at the beginning of the new century according to the National Human development report stated that Afghanistan is experienced a life expectancy of at least 45 years with the healthy life expectancy at birth being estimated at 34.4 years. One out of five children in Afghanistan dies before the age of six and at least one woman dies approximately every 30 minutes due to pregnancy-related causes (Thruelsen, 2011).
The country has some of the highest infant mortality and maternal rates in the world. The life expectancy of Afghans is 21 years shorter than neighbouring countries. 80% of child deaths of children under the age of six are caused by preventable diseases. Half of these children are physically stunted as a result of severe malnutrition with 10% of these experiencing acute malnutrition (Trani & Bakhshi, 2013). The report noted that only 25% of Afghans have access to clean water and sanitation. One out of eight children will die as a result of lack of access to water with one out of two Afghans being classified as poor. Furthermore, the report shows that slightly less than 20% of the total population consumes less than 2070 cal per individual every day. The country is only ahead of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger regarding literacy rates and the government is doing very little to change the situation as observed by independent researchers. For example, the maternal death solutions seem to come from outside instead of the government itself (Trani & Bakhshi, 2013).
The poverty rates in Afghanistan have been considered as a multidimensional problem according to the United Nations report. There are many inequalities regarding the access to social services and productive assets, poor health, nutritional status, and education. Also, there are weak social protection systems that leave Afghans vulnerable both to micro-and macro-level risks. These risks are considered both human and natural triggered risks. The United Nations report notes that there are high rates of gender inequalities, displacement of human beings, and political marginalisation. In most cases, the main victims of these challenging social, economic problems are children and pregnant women (Wills, 2014). About 310,000 children were part of the victims of the social unrest that has lasted for two decades. Most of these children were abducted and trafficked in Asia and some parts of Europe. Children trafficking has now risen to become the most challenging issue in modern-day Afghanistan and is continuously posing a big threat to the society. Most of this abducted children and of being forced into labour, prostitution, servitude, slavery, or worse, have their body parts harvested and sold. Women literacy rates are very low in Afghanistan. Only about 15% of women are illiterate with pregnancy -related deaths accounting for more than 60 times more compared to industrialised countries. There are an estimated 11 million landmines that are scattered all over Afghanistan making it the country with the highest number of landmines in the world. These landmines have posed serious problems for residents accounting for more than 300,000 deaths and disabling more people (Sedra, 2006). In addition to this Afghanistan is one of the countries where there are high rates of human displacement. It has been noted that at least one out of three persons is either internally displaced or is a refugee.
According to research done by Motowani & Bose (2015), most Afghans suffer from serious mental disorders as a result of the continuous fighting that has lasted for more than two decades. According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that at least 95% of the Afghan population has suffered some form of psychological disorder with at least one out of five persons suffering from serious mental health problems. According to a survey that was done in Kabul by Koehler & Gosztonyi (2014), 98.5% of residents in Kabul met the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety, or major depression with more than 41% meeting the criteria for all these three conditions. Another problem that is currently challenging the potential stability in Afghanistan concerns the relationship between narcotic mafias, the state, and warlords. This is a delicate relationship often characterised by instances of short-term violence further adding to the level of psychological insecurity for the local Afghans. One person from Jalalabad was quoted as saying that the US supported Afghanistan government does not have any education policy, mental health policy, security policy, or environmental policy. He stated that the government is taking everything away from the citizen’s and giving nothing in return leaving the locals struggling not only to survive but also stay alive (Thruelsen, 2011).
Despite all these problems, there are several gains that have been realised after the US invasion in 2001. One interesting gain is that school enrolment has increased and especially amongst young girls. However, the problem is that not more than 2% of children are attending school at any time in Afghanistan in at least the nine provinces. In 10 Afghan provinces, more than 82% of girls have not enroled in school further lowering the literacy rates of future women who are expected to play a fundamental role in restructuring Afghanistan. Although the country’s gross domestic product has increased since the US invasion to stand at $4 billion from a low of $2.7 billion in 2000, the economy is not underpinned by strong infrastructure development. In fact, there is no major investment by the government in any sector including key sectors such as health and education. This further puts the country’s future security in a weak position. The country is yet to clear its negative image internationally to attract any significant investment apart from donor funding. Another element that further complicates Afghanistan’s economic security is the role played by its neighbours, particularly Pakistan (Trani & Bakhshi, 2013). Scholars have noted that the current situation in Afghanistan can directly be attributed to external factors including external interference and invasion especially after the 1970s. It is important to note that the present Afghanistan’s borders were only set recently towards the end of the 19th century went to great powers, namely, the Russian and British empires, fought to establish a buffer state between Russia and Britain. In 1978, a pro-Soviet regime was installed by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan also known as the PDPA only to be later followed by an anti-Soviet mujahedin guerrilla warfare that effectively invited USSR’s military activities into the country. This can be considered as the period that marked the beginning of more than 23 years of war in Afghanistan (Koehler & Gosztonyi, 2014).
Official UN documents failed to mention that Pres Jimmy Carter signed a secret pact with Islamic fundamentalist forces in mid-1979 just six months before the invasion of USSR. The president offered clandestine assistance to an Islamic fundamentalist outfit to keep USSR’s interests in Afghanistan at bay. This was acknowledged by Zbigniew Brezinski in 1999. He was Pres Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser who further noted that the president did not regret the secret operation as a bad idea. These double standards by Western countries did not end after Pres Jimmy Carter’s initial secret intervention. They have continued up to date. In fact, the majority of people especially in America and Europe have continued to question the legality of US troops in Afghanistan with most doubting the initial reasons that warranted the invasion in 2001. With all these stakeholders expected to continue to influence Afghanistan’s politics, it should not come as a surprise that the recent withdrawal of US troops in the country will only set the stage for longer periods of deeply divided politics that are likely to undermine further any gains that have been made in recent past (Rodriguez, n.d.).
Aras, B., & Toktas, S. (n.d.). AFGHANISTAN’S SECURITY: POLITICAL PROCESS, STATE-BUILDING AND NARCOTICS. Middle East Policy,15(2), 39. Retrieved from https://login.libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/203688984?accountid=34899
Beloglazov, A. V. (2015). Central Asia Security Problems in the Context of Coalition Troops Withdrawal from Afghanistan. Journal of Sustainable Development, 8(4), 225. Retrieved from https://login.libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1687097766?accountid=34899
Daugirdas, K., & Mortenson, J. D. (2015). United States and Afghanistan Sign Bilateral Security Agreement. The American Journal of International Law, 109(1), 185. Retrieved from https://login.libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1695019190?accountid=34899
Kanji, N., Sherbut, G., Fararoon, R., & Hatcher, J. (2012). Improving Quality of Life in Remote Mountain Communities: Looking Beyond Market-led Approaches in Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan.Mountain Research and Development (Online), 32(3), 353. Retrieved from https://login.libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1081324616?accountid=34899
Koehler, J., & Gosztonyi, K. (2014). The International Intervention and its Impact on Security Governance in North-East Afghanistan.International Peacekeeping, 21(2), 231. Retrieved from https://login.libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1543786192?accountid=34899
Motowani, N., & Bose, S. (2015). Afghanistan: ‘spoilers’ in the regional security context. Australian Journal of International Affairs,69(3), 266. Retrieved from https://login.libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1663915387?accountid=34899
Rodriguez, D. M. (n.d.). Leaving Afghanistan to the Afghans: A Commander’s Take on Security. Foreign Affairs, 90(5), 45. Retrieved from https://login.libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/885100323?accountid=34899
Seal, K. H., Cohen, G., Bertenthal, D., Cohen, B. E., Maguen, S., & Daley, A. (2011). Reducing Barriers to Mental Health and Social Services for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans: Outcomes of an Integrated Primary Care Clinic. Journal of General Internal Medicine,26(10), 1160. http://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11606-011-1746-1
Sedra, M. (2006). Security Sector Reform in Afghanistan: The Slide Towards Expediency. International Peacekeeping, 13(1), 94. Retrieved from https://login.libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/228062461?accountid=34899
Thruelsen, P. D. (2011). Security sector stabilisation in counterinsurgency operations: the case of Afghanistan. Small Wars & Insurgencies, 22(4), 619. Retrieved from https://login.libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/909829693?accountid=34899
Trani, J.-F., & Bakhshi, P. (2013). Vulnerability and mental health in Afghanistan: Looking beyond war exposure. Transcultural Psychiatry, 50(1), 108. http://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1363461512475025
Wills, M. (2014). Afghanistan Beyond 2014: The Search for Security in the Heart of Asia. Asia Policy, (17), 2. Retrieved from https://login.libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1687982341?accountid=34899