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The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has politically been in a state of constant flux since 1973 and the overthrow of the traditional monarchy. Following the 2001 invasion by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) led by NATO, the radical Islamist government of the Taliban was replaced with a republican style government, with three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial). The current President of Afghanistan is Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who eventually defeated Abdullah Abdullah in second round of elections in 2014, when the two eventually signed a power-sharing agreement following a two-month audit of disputed election results that ultimately resulted in Ghani being sworn in as president and Abdullah becoming the Chief Executive Officer.1 The Afghan parliament, also known as the National Assembly, was elected in 2005, and 2010, and is divided into the upper House of Elders (Pashto: Mesherano Jirga) and the lower House of the People (Pashto: Wolesi Jirga). Both are made up of various political parties, ranging from Islamic to social democratic.23
Afghanistan continues to suffer from the effects of a 1978 civil war and subsequent NATO military intervention. The Afghan government currently has several major issues. The Taliban continues to mount a major insurgency within Afghanistan; they are continuing to strike all across the country, in spite of significant NATO involvement over the last eleven years. Despite implemented timetables to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, the U.S. and other NATO countries have continued to keep a force of ~12,000 troops due to the slow materialization of NATO’s train and assist missions and a continued threatening presence of insurgent fighters.4
Opium trade continues to be one of the largest sources of income in Afghanistan, comprising ~4% of Afghanistan’s GDP in 2014 and remains economically important, employing 411,000 Afghans.5 Corruption remains a serious issue in Afghanistan, including serious accusations and protests following the presidential election in 2009, which led to the postponing of the parliamentary elections by several months.6 There were also accusations of fraud within the 2014 presidential election, which resulted in months of stalemate between the two candidates, which ultimately ended in an agreement to share the power.7
Afghanistan is currently being shaped by the Western powers in an attempt to form a Western style democratic government, but this effort is failing as Afghanistan is looking more and more like an Islamic Republic. Afghanistan continues to maintain good relations with its neighbor Iran, they are continuing to play a role both military and economically in the post-Taliban era. One of the major problems that continue to plague Afghanistan is the struggle to stop the influx of Taliban fighters and fanatics entering across its porous border. Pakistan’s Secret Service (ISI) has been charged with aiding and abetting the Taliban for many years, including the recent attack on the US Embassy in Kabul. With the departure of President Hamid Karazi, there is a hope that Ghani and Abdullah will work to improve relations with the United States, with both leaders saying they would sign an agreement that would keep U.S. military advisors in Afghanistan past 2014; an agreement that Karazi refused to sign. In addition to once working at the World Bank, Ghani’s educational background is considerably western, which could possibly lead to greater cooperation between the two countries.8
The three decades of civil war have severely crippled the Afghan economy. Afghanistan remains among the world’s poorest and least developed countries.9 The GDP of Afghanistan in 2013 was $45.3 billion, 101st in the world.10 Despite these economic setbacks, the GPD of Afghanistan grew by 8.7% in 2012, 10.9% in 2013, and 6.4% in 2014.11 While this growth is impressive most of Afghanistan’s recent developments are a result of foreign aid from the international community.
Afghanistan is mostly agricultural in nature, with 78.6% of the workforce working in agricultural work, as opposed to 5.7% in industry and 15.7% in services.12 Afghanistan’s main exports are mostly resource-based and with the recent discovery of vast amounts of untapped mineral resources. According to a US Geological survey, “Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world.” These resources vary from deposits of precious/semiprecious stones, metals to natural gas, and oil.13 Afghanistan’s largest export is opium, and as of 2013, 90% of the world’s heroin supply will come from the poppy plants in Afghanistan. The dependency of large parts of society on the growing and selling of opium has kept both the Afghan government and rebel forces, such as the Taliban, from mounting any major actions against opium fields.
The economic situation in Afghanistan does show steady signs of improvement as time progresses. With the discovery of untapped resources throughout the country, mining and other related industries will become crucial to modernizing the Afghan economy and hopefully mitigate the dependency on poppy plants. Currently, 36% of Afghanistan is below the poverty line and unemployment is at 35%.14 The potential for Afghanistan’s economy is enormous if the government can maintain and guarantee future security. The talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are currently stalemate; if these two groups can’t reconcile their differences, Afghanistan will have difficulty achieving long lasting peace and stability.
Afghanistan’s environmental situation has been affected greatly by its multi-decade civil war. The lack of any sort of cohesive infrastructure across the country has meant that critical resources, such as fresh water and arable land have become major dilemmas. Droughts from 1998-2003, and subsequently in 2006 caused famine for millions, and the failure of water management in the country has led to severe water shortages across much of Afghanistan.15 Similarly, lack of law enforcement means that Afghanistan’s forests and wildlife being heavily harvested. Whole tracts of forest have been cut down while hunting many animals near extinction. Whereas environmental organizations recognize that a country must have a minimum of 15% of its territory forested in order to maintain soil quality, Afghanistan is only 1-2% forested.16 The result has been a major decrease in the potential of Afghan soil to support agriculture, putting a heavy strain on population whose main means of livelihood is farming.
Afghanistan a member of several international agreements, including those pertaining to Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Environmental Modification, and Ozone Layer Protection.17 Despite this, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report in 2007 showing Afghanistan was one of the leading non-African countries in terms of environmental related deaths.18 Similarly, Afghanistan’s economic repair is quintessential to its restoration as a functioning nation.
Research and Data Development Provided by: Sara Rosenblatt and Corey Murano, Research Associates, under the supervision and coordination of Dr. Gerard J. Janco, President, Eurasia Center/EBC.