The U.S. and other foreign donors have contributed over $100 billion to rebuild Afghanistan since 2001. Most of this infrastructure will fall apart over the next few decades if sufficient money (over $4 billion a year) is not spent on maintaining the buildings, roads, dams and other construction projects. Afghanistan is not able to raise enough in taxes to sustain that. In 2013 the government collected 20 percent less tax revenue than planned, although the $1.8 billion collected was up 15 percent over last year. Taxes are only 28 percent of the budget, with the rest coming from foreign aid. Collecting taxes as well as using foreign aid is crippled by the widespread corruption as is money allocated to maintain recently built things. Too many Afghan leaders (both elected and tribal) put personal gain ahead of the welfare of Afghanistan as a whole. This corruption was not as big a problem when there was not as much to steal. But in the last decade the flood of foreign aid has made corruption far more lucrative and most Afghans cannot resist the temptation to get rich at the expense of their fellow Afghans.
Meanwhile the economy has been booming and one of the side effects has been much increased trade with Iran. In part that is due to Iran coping with the crippling economic sanctions by doing more of its trade with its immediate neighbors (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and Iraq.) Over 30 percent of Afghan imports are now from Iran and like the trade with other neighbors tends to be barter, in order to get around the sanctions (which restrict Iranian use of the international banking system).
The extent of the corruption in Afghanistan was recently demonstrated when parliament refused to pass anti-money laundering laws demanded by the international banking system. As a result Afghanistan risks being cut off from access to the international banking system by the end of June. Apparently so many members of parliament have been stealing and shipping cash offshore that they fear the new laws would make it too easy for them to be identified by foreign bank fraud investigators and prosecuted (especially outside Afghanistan). Losing access to the international banking system would cripple the Afghan economy and cut off millions of Afghans from cash they receive from family overseas. Many corrupt politicians are willing to risk this because they believe foreign bank regulators are more concerned with the welfare of ordinary Afghans than Afghan politicians. The U.S. and other foreign aid donors are also threatening the Afghan government with aid cutoffs if the new laws are not passed. But with the new presidential elections (the runoff is on June 14th) the current Karzai government is largely immune to this kind of pressure because most of them will soon be out of a job (and already have lots of cash hidden in foreign banks.)
Despite official denials Iran has apparently turned to Afghanistan for mercenaries to fight in Syria. Iran is offering Shia Afghans in Iranian refugee camps residency permits and $500 a month to fight in Syria. Iran would also pay thousands of dollars in “compensation” to the family of the young man if he was killed in Syria. More money is paid to Syria veterans recovering from wounds and pensions for those crippled by their wounds. This is an attractive offer because many Afghan Shia prefer life in Iran. Only 15 percent of Afghans are Shia and these Shia are a particular target for Sunni Islamic terrorists (like the Taliban). Moreover, despite all the Iranian economic problems the standard of living (and degree of law and order) is still higher in Iran. This offer, especially the residency permit (because Iran is trying to force the last few hundred thousand Afghan refugees from the 1980s back into Afghanistan) is attractive and is expected to attract Shia living in Afghanistan. There is a lot of illegal movement back and forth across the Iran-Afghan border so it is no problem for the Shia men to get into Iran and sign up.
May 25, 2014: The election commission dismissed 3,000 election workers and blacklisted them for election fraud during the recent presidential elections. There were nearly a thousand complaints of vote fraud and 300,000 votes were thrown out because of it. But another 800,000 suspect votes were counted because of death threats from various groups. Most Afghans consider this progress but there is obviously still a way to go. Too many powerful Afghans consider it their right to interfere in elections and changing those attitudes takes time. The runoff for the presidential elections will be on June 14th with the vote count announced by the 22nd.
May 23, 2014: In Herat four Taliban attacked the Indian consulate. There followed ten hours of fighting before all of the attackers were killed. None of the Indian consular or security personnel were injured.
May 21, 2014: In the northeast (Badakhshan province) a large Taliban force attacked a town and captured 27 policemen. The Taliban then got away with their captives before reinforcements arrived. This was one of three Taliban attacks today, which is supposed to be the start of their annual Summer Offensive. The Taliban are active along the northern border to protect their heroin smuggling routes into Central Asia and Russia.
May 18, 2014:
In eastern Afghanistan (Kunar) four rockets fired from Pakistan landed in a populated area but there were no casualties. A similar attack in January killed four children. Afghanistan also complains that Pakistan has been shelling Afghan villages in the southern province of Helmand. There Pakistan is also accused of trying to set up border posts on the Afghan side of the border (which has long been a matter of dispute between the two countries.)
May 15, 2014: In the south (Kandahar province) Afghan and Pakistani border guards fired on each other, leaving one Afghan policeman dead. The Afghans accused the Pakistanis of firing first.
The Afghan Taliban announced the appointment of Ibrahim Sadar as the new military commander of the Afghan Taliban. Sadar had been in a Pakistani jail (on terrorism charges) until earlier this year when he was released at the request of the Afghan government as a gesture meant to move forward peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. Those talks are not really going anywhere because militant Taliban factions violently oppose any peace deals (aside from complete surrender by the Afghan government).
May 12, 2014: The UN issued a report describing how 545 children died from terrorist violence in Afghanistan last year. The report cited international and Islamic (sharia) law forbidding this sort of thing and accusing the Taliban of responsibility for most of those deaths. The Taliban rejected the accusations but that rang false. The Taliban regularly attack civilians and do not go out of their way to spare children. A larger problem is the extent of domestic violence and violence in general throughout Afghanistan. The casual violence in Afghanistan is many times what it is in the West, which can be seen by the high number of wives and children who show up at clinics (run by foreign aid workers) to have injuries (not from accidents) treated. Afghans don't try to hide the source of these injuries, as beating wives and children (and each other) is considered the Afghan way of maintaining order at home.
The Taliban announced the start of their annual Summer Offensive.
There hasn't been a real "Taliban Summer Offensive" for nearly a decade and that’s partly because of cash flow problems and increasingly effective Afghan security forces and growing resistance from tribal and other local militias. The Taliban expected drug gang profits, al Qaeda assistance, and Pakistani reinforcements to help them out. But the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 was a big blow to Islamic terrorist morale and donor generosity. Pakistani Taliban are mostly sending refugees, not reinforcements. For the last two years the Taliban have been suffering and that means their attacks are down and casualties are up. But this year the Pakistani Taliban are making a major effort assist the Afghan Taliban because the departure of so many foreign troops from Afghanistan is seen as an opportunity for the Taliban to regain control of the country. To that end Taliban propaganda this year has downplayed the Taliban effort to rid the country of “foreign invaders” and shifted to criticism of the Afghan government being run by un-Islamic Afghans who must be removed from power. The Summer Offensive got off to a poor start as it run into ongoing police and army offensives against the Taliban. In the last week over 70 Taliban have been killed, far more casualties than the Taliban inflicted. This spotlights a basic change in the situation with the government security forces being more numerous and more lethal than the Taliban. As long as the foreign money keeps coming to pay the security forces and the foreign trainers and advisers remain, the Taliban will continue to lose on the battlefield.
May 9, 2014:
Afghan military officials revealed that in the last week its troops had killed at least 14 Pakistani Islamic terrorists who had been living on the Afghan side of the border.
In the west (Farah province) over a hundred Taliban attacked an army checkpoint and drove off the soldiers, wounding eight of them in the process. The attackers suffered six dead and 18 wounded and retreated taking two police vehicles with them.
May 7, 2014:
On the Afghan border Afghan troops fired on an Iranian border patrol and accused the Iranians of regularly patrolling on the Afghan side of the border. There were no casualties. There are still disagreements over exactly where the border is.
May 5, 2014: In the west (Nimroz province) a Taliban on a military compound was defeated with the five attackers (some of them suicide bombers) killed. One defender also died.