By Joanne Laurier
02 March 2005
recent United Nations report on social conditions in Afghanistan provides
a glimpse of the social reality behind the American medias talk
of a new democracy and the supposedly benevolent role of
the US government in that country.
A quarter of a century
after Washington intervened to support Islamic fundamentalist forces
fighting a pro-Soviet government in Kabul, and three years after the
American military invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime,
the war-torn nation ranks 173rd out of 178 countries in the United Nations
2004 Human Development Index. Only a handful of sub-Saharan African
nations suffer more wretched conditions.
The survey, Afghanistan,
National Human Development Report 2004: Security with a Human Face,
was recently released in Kabul. It begins by asserting that the country
has not seen any significant span of stability over the
past two decadesi.e., shortly after the US first intervened in
Afghanistan. Years of conflict and neglect have taken a devastating
toll, as measured by dramatic drops in human, social and economic indicators,
the reports authors write.
After noting that
a global survey in 1992 revealed atrocious conditions in Afghanistan,
the report continues: By the beginning of the new century, human
development estimates as recorded in this NHDR [National Human Development
Report] had become even more alarming: Life expectancy today is approximately
44.5 years, with healthy life expectancy at birth estimated at 33.4
years. One out of five children dies before the age of five, and one
woman dies approximately every 30 minutes from pregnancy-related causes.
The infant and maternal
mortality rates are among the highest in the world, with life expectancy
at least 20 years shorter than in neighboring countries.
Eighty percent of
the deaths of children under five are due to preventable diseases. About
half of this same age group are physically stunted due to chronic malnutrition,
and some 10 percent suffer acute malnutrition.
Only 25 percent
of the population has access to clean drinking waterone in eight
children die from lack of the resource. One of two Afghans can be classified
as poor, with 20.4 percent of the rural population consuming less than
2,070 calories per person per day. Only Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali
have lower literacy rates.
in Afghanistan is a multidimensional problem that includes inequalities
in access to productive assets and social services; poor health, education
and nutritional status; weak social protection systems, vulnerability
to macro and micro-level risks (both natural and human-triggered); human
displacement; gender inequalities and political marginalization,
summarizes the report.
Children have been
the primary victims of more than two decades of conflict. Of the estimated
1.5 million people killed during this period, some 300,000 were children.
Abduction and trafficking in children is now a rapidly growing threat,
with the most common forms of trafficking being child prostitution,
forced labor, slavery, servitude and the removal of body organs.
Only 14 percent
of women are literate, and the rate of pregnancy-related deaths is 60
times higher than for women in industrial countries. Seventy percent
of those affected by tuberculosis are women.
Afghanistan is one
of the countries most heavily saturated with land mines. An estimated
10 million scattered throughout the country have been responsible for
disabling hundreds of thousands of Afghans. The country is also one
of the worlds major sites of human displacement, where one in
every three people is either a refugee or an internally displaced
The report states:
Mental disorders are another of Afghanistans war wounds,
yet they have been largely ignored. WHO [World Health Organization]
estimates indicate that 95 percent of the population in Afghanistan
has been affected psychologically, and one in five suffers from mental
health problems. Some 30 percent of the population may suffer
from forms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A survey of women
in Kabul found that 98 percent met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD,
major depression or severe anxiety, and 40 percent met the criteria
for all three diagnoses.
between the state, the warlords and the narco-mafia bosses have added
to the level of psychological insecurity. The report quotes
a man from Jalalabad who provides a description of the dysfunctional,
US-supported government of President Hamid Karzai: It has no education
policy, it has no health policy, it has no economic policy, it has no
environmental policy, it has no security policy. It just takes everything
by the day and many of the days are bad.
The report argues
that progress has been made in certain areas since the US invasion in
2001. School enrollment has increased, particularly among girls. It
notes, however, that more than 61 percent of children are not going
to school in at least nine provinces. In ten provinces, more than 80
percent of girls are not enrolled in school.
Afghan gross domestic
product (GDP) has increased, but it was climbing out of a very deep
hole. The nations GDP was estimated to be about $3.7 billion in
1977; it dropped by some 20 percent over the next decade. By 2000, GDP
had fallen even farther, to an estimated $2.7 billion. It has now risen
to approximately $4 billion.
According to a New
York Times article on the UN report, while there has been progress,
Zphirin Diabr, associated administrator of the United Nations Development
Program, says, the country has a long way to go just to get back
to where it was 20 years ago.
One part of the
report attempts to place this disastrous state of affairs within an
historical context. The chapter provides a brief overview of the Afghan
conflict, beginning in the 1970s, whose predominant causes stem
from external factors such as foreign invasion and interference.
present borders were established at the end of the nineteenth century,
when the great powers sought to establish a buffer state between
the British and Russian empires. In the 1970s, two political coups
brought to power, in 1978, the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan
(PDPA), which installed a pro-Soviet regime.
In response to the
destabilizing impact of the anti-Soviet Mujahideen guerilla insurgency,
according to the report, the PDPA invited the USSR to enter
the country in 1979, marking the beginning of Afghanistans 23-year-long
The UN report does
not explain that in July 1979, US President Jimmy Carter signed a secret
directive providing clandestine assistance to the Islamic fundamentalist
forces. This was six months before the USSR invaded.
Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski acknowledged this in a 1998 interview.
He explained, We didnt push the Russians to intervene, but
we consciously increased the probability that they would.... Regret
what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect
of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap. You want me to regret
Asked if he regretted
providing sustenance for future Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, Brzezinski
replied: What is more important to the history of the world...the
Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems
or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?
Along with the present
social disaster in Afghanistan, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
can also be traced, in the final analysis, to the strategy first employed
by Carter-Brzezinski and actively pursued by the Reagan administration
during the 1980s of manipulating Islamic fundamentalism to undermine
the Soviet Union.
The UN study points
out that during the phase of the Cold War that stretched between
1979 and 1989, the Mujahideen groups received about $7 billion in military
and economic aid from the US and some other western countries.
In this same period, the war created 5 million Afghan refugees.
The fall of the
Afghan government of Mohammad Najibullah in 1992 and the total
chaos in the country in the aftermath of the withdrawal of the Soviet
forces left a weak state with weak military capability, argues
the UN report. In an earlier chapter, the authors write: The Western
world was more interested in curbing the expansion of the Soviet Union
than in the consequences of heavily arming resistance groups. It then
abandoned Afghanistan, and its people, after the pull-out of the Soviet
Until the late 1990s,
the US turned a blind eye to the extremely regressive social policies
of the Taliban, which had come to power in 1994. Under the Taliban,
according to the report, the war economy was further consolidated
and Afghanistan became the worlds major source of opium.
The September 11 terrorist attacks provided the Bush administration
with the pretext to invade Afghanistan and oust the Taliban regime.
The years following
the US invasion witnessed a deeply embedded war economy, which
leaves the majority of Afghans living in heightened states of both fear
and want. This era has seen an expansion of narco-warlordism and
the opium trade. It is estimated that in 2003, Afghanistan produced
three-quarters of the world illicit opium, and officials warn that the
country could become a narco-terror state in the future.
The survey also
contends that besides opium, trafficking in archeological artifacts
has been a source of booty, estimating that since 1992, approximately
75 percent of the ancient artifacts belonging to the National Museum
in Kabul have been smuggled out of the country.
Security with a
Human Face presents a harrowing picture of a country whose free
election last October was timed to provide Bush with a pre-election
boost. The prescriptions advanced by the report in its later chapters
for a stable and democratic society appear absurd in light of current
Afghan reality: foreign imperialist occupation, political power in the
hands of mafia-like warlords; unspeakable conditions for broad masses
of the population.