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Afghanistan: A State of Fear (Part I)

Dec 20, 2013


Right after I graduated from college this past May, I went on a bit of an odyssey. I took a trip to Afghanistan. After being away for three years, I returned to the western part of the country where my family resides. I was struck by how much things had changed for the worse in just three years. Three years ago, there was a lot of employment, a lot of optimism for the future, and an overall hope for a better life. However, this time, complete hopelessness, lawlessness, and uncertainty dominated the atmosphere. Everyone lived in a state of utter fear. Before I move forward elaborating further on the situation in Afghanistan, I’d like to add that all is not lost, and with a better, more competent leadership things can be turned around internally. Externally, through a coordinated and robust diplomatic effort, regional and international players can come to some sort of agreement that is conducive to the interests of all players, and more importantly, to the stability of the region.

The withdrawal of the American troops in 2014 has created anxiety and uncertainty within Afghan society. Elias Canetti, the German Nobel Laureate and author of Crowds and Power, opens his book by stating: “There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown.” It is this unknown that has moved the Afghan people to do something about their future. Groups are of course responding differently to the situation. For example, warlords like Ismael Khan, who is presently the Minister of Water and Energy, are arming themselves. Khan, originally from Herat, was the governor of the province until President Karzai removed him in 2005. Even though Mr. Khan no longer holds power in Herat, he still maintains more control over the affairs of this province than the current governor. Mr. Khan, along with other warlords around the country, are gearing up for the American troops’ exodus. These warlords believe that the U.S. has already accomplished its mission: killing of Osama bin Laden and breaking down al-Qaeda’s leadership structure – and thus has no interest in staying in Afghanistan.

Intense rivalries over power have already begun. This is manifested in an increased number of kidnappings and political assassinations. A week after I arrived in Herat, two armed men killed the leader of an ethnic Hazara district. According to several newspapers, the killing was due to his growing political popularity. Assassinations on motorcycles are the most fashionable way of killing one's opponent.

Terror and fear are dominant in the city of Herat. No one travels to the outskirts of the city any longer. The rich and those with prestige and power are responding differently. For one, they’ve stopped their investments and are securing their liquid assets by stashing them away in foreign banks and are leaving the country for the Gulf and other stable neighboring countries. Who’s to blame them? How can people live in a country where crime is now the order of the day? Where mass poverty is besetting more and more people? To borrow a phrase from President Lyndon Johnson, poverty is so pervasive that “nobody [has] a name for it.” Theft, kidnappings, burglaries, and other heinous crimes emanate from unemployment. Unemployment is, without a doubt, the source of all social diseases.

Governance has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Justice, security, and liberty have become concepts as foreign as if it were the Middle Ages. Complete chaos reigns over Afghanistan. According to Business Insider, Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, second only to Somalia. The joke amongst Afghans is that Afghanistan bribed Somalia to take the fall. Corruption had become so prevalent and normalized that nobody even wanted to complain about it anymore. It is part of the system. Someone jokingly told me, “they [lawmakers] should go ahead and make it part of the legal framework.”

People in Herat were telling me that the security situation is the worst it’s been in the last twelve years. I believe there are three possibilities for these growing acts of terror and violence:

1) With the withdrawal of American Combat Forces in 2014, people feel that after the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, the Taliban, will once again overtake the country, and total barbarism will reign supreme;

2) The Karzai government is intentionally fomenting instability in order to not hold elections, which are scheduled for next year; and

3) The scariest of all possibilities—the normalization of corruption and fear.

Women are of course the greatest victims of all this instability and violence. They have no rights and many are experiencing a form of enslavement. They have systematically been reduced to an inhumane level. If you are harassed in the workplace, it is your fault for having dressed improperly. If a girl is raped, not only does she not get justice with regards to the perpetrator, but also she herself is thrown into jail where she will endure ongoing sexual abuse by prison guards. How could a girl come forward and fight such oppression when the system is diabolically unjust and oppressive? Days after I arrived in Herat province, a seventeen-year-old girl, while on a trip to the bazaar, got shot in the head by two armed men. The story I got was that she had declined a marriage proposal from one of them. The case went cold and nobody prosecuted the perpetrators. Herat is considered one of the most cultured, economically vibrant, and politically stable provinces in the country. If one of the major cities is in such a state, imagine what is going on the periphery.

These are interesting and difficult times for the Afghan people. The political situation is blazing with uncertainties and crises. However, the other side of crisis is opportunity. The international community and the United States must look beyond 2014 and stay engaged in the affairs of Central Asia and Afghanistan. Otherwise, this period of fear and uncertainty can easily devolve into a brutal civil war.

In the second part of this piece, I will provide recommendations for new leadership and stability in Afghanistan.


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I admit that I really didn't

I admit that I really didn't realize how wide the issue of poor governance and unrest in Afghanistan is. The efforts spent combating the Taliban in the south and east of the country can be undone all too easily if the country as a whole doesn't have a view of a better future. I'm afraid that history is going to repeat itself, that 2014 will be another 1989, with a descent into vicious civil war. Even some of the names are familiar.

It seems that, at the root, there is little popular buy-in to the idea of Afghanistan as a nation, something worth investing in now to see gains down the road. Considering the repeated failure of the state to perform its core functions, that isn't surprising. Until the legitimacy of the government is fixed, I don't know how much progress towards a free, prosperous future there can be.

As the one who born in Herat

As the one who born in Herat Afghanistan and grew up there in a cultural family, could feel everything about the people which is in Afghanistan, I don’t want beat around the bush, about the above article : it was really wise and widely described each and every points, such a human being, security situation and etc…
This is about 4 mounts that I am in USA and am studying here, but now I saw this article which was truly defined the story of Afghans, that was widely modify by Fahim Masoud .Great one .

You rightly portrayed the

You rightly portrayed the situation of uncertainty and fear in Afghanistan. Despite some progress in establishing relatively well functioning security forces, the government failed to deliver services to people on the basis of good governance. Inequity, lack of justice and most importantly the widespread corruption in government is devastating the newly built institutions and the governmeant as a whole.
Afghan people have to support and participate in the election and say no to a scary post-2014 situation by electing a capable, transparent team to lead the state.

A Very good article.

A Very good article.
You have widely discussed a few valid issues that is the truth on the ground. I have to say that without a transparent administration and a good leadership with a good sense of patriotism, the country will be in a continued calamity and will hold a bleak future.

Thank you for your thoughtful

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Please be aware that the second part of this piece will feature in the next few days.

Chris - yes, unfortunately, the current security situation is not very hopeful. It is to be hoped that the new Afghan leadership will usher in an era of political stability and economic prosperity.

Nasrat - I'm definitely in tune with you. In "The Origins of Political Order," Francis Fukuyama argues that poor countries are poor not because they don't have natural resources, but because they lack effective political institutions. To eradicate corruption and build a governance culture, the new leadership's first priority should be establishing strong and durable political institutions . . .

It is saddening to see a

It is saddening to see a country and people subjected to usurpations. The usage of ethos and pathos is sustainable enough to conclude the necessity for call of action. However, I would like to believe in George Orwell's 1984 in the spirit of man but in this case, there is a need of many factors to fix this problem. One could be to use opium to make not heroin but morphine. Create a more centralized (competent government) and history would also agree with investments into health and sanitary institutions. Like South Korea who is a very stable and wealthy country yet it's counterpart Brazil is at the level Korea was in during the cold war because of their different investment plans. Soon, and with the aid of the people themselves and foreign influences hopefully they will build a foundation for a brave new nation.

Fahim Jan, its an atricl

Fahim Jan, its an atricl which is based on the ground truth.I beleiv the five main issues such as! Poorty, Gender discrimination, religios extremism, Illetricity, corrupts leadership are the obstilcals which are continously caused by warlords( Schools into ston by Greg) and it will keep the nation from moving farword.If we look at the history of West back in 1700ac under the name of god big number of people lost their lives and luck of edjucation and luck of transperacny within the Afghan Gov can be an major obsticals.As you brought up some examples of Women abusing, if it stay the same, how come the same woman cab be good enough mother to rais her son and daoughter for the sake generation with pro civilization and pro evolvment.Having such fear can make the papulation not to fight for thiere rights.If you edjucate a man you have edjucated one single individual in a society, but if you edjucat a woman, you have edjucated the whole society(School into ston)

Fahim Jan...while I partly

Fahim Jan...while I partly agree with your analysis, the fact remains that Afghanistan is a post conflict nation and the presence of International community is vital for its institutions to mature and grow. We must not generalize a personal experience of yours and brush the entire country as unstable and insecure. Sometimes we hold a small piece of reality and think as if it is the entire reality.

Dear Ahmad:

Dear Ahmad:

Thank you for your comment. I agree: the presence and involvement of the international community is of great importance to the stability of the country. Part II of this article ( talks about how important the US engagement is . . .

I don't know if you have travelled to Herat recently, but not too long ago the province was more stable than any other part of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, that's not the case any more. Now, if Herat is in such a state of chaos, imagine how unstable is the periphery.

Dear Mr.Masoud:

Dear Mr.Masoud:
I congratulate you on your extra ordinary article regarding the analysis of the existing conditions in Afghanistan particularly in Herat. Adding to what you mentioned here and discussions I had with you in Herat, the delay in signing the MSA from the Afghanistan government side as a trigger has worsened the conditions. People are losing the hope we are experiencing financial and economic depression. International aids organizations are withdrawing and the level of security belt is getting smaller. Unfortunately the leadership of the Government is only taking care of extension of their power through any possible way.


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