Afghanistan: Lost in Afghanistan

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December 2, 2023: Afghanistan has been at war with itself and others since the 1970s. Through it all, Afghanistan has been the biggest loser. There have been some improvements. For example, during the 20 years the IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) ran the country in 2001, its literacy rate grew. When the IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) took control in 2021, the literacy rate began to fall. At that point the adult (all those over 15) literacy rate was 46 percent compared to 31 percent in 2001 and 18 percent in 1979, when over four decades of war began. The current literacy rate for school-age Afghans is nearly 50 percent because, since 2002, over a third of Afghans have received at least a basic education and nearly half of those have been female, despite vigorous Taliban efforts to block that. Since 2014 the Taliban have put a priority on destroying schools, especially those that educate girls. The number of girls getting an education has been declining. The current Afghan literacy rate is 46 percent compared to 72 percent for India, 96 percent in China and 87 percent in Iran. Countries with higher literacy rates tend to have stronger economies and more prosperity in general. The U.S. has a literacy rate of 99 percent, as does Britain and most other Western nations. The more prosperous Arab states, like the UAE (United Arab Emirates) have a 93 percent literacy rate. The higher literacy rate usually leads to a better educated and more productive workforce.

The two decades of IRA rule were made possible by $2.3 trillion dollars of American aid to the Afghan government. Some of this money also went to Pakistan, which turned out to be a mistake. In 2019 Pakistan admitted that for the last fifteen years it had lied about the presence of over 30,000 armed men in Pakistan and Kashmir working for 40 Islamic terror groups. That deception was one of the reasons the U.S. cut off all aid to Pakistan. In addition to halting cash assistance of Afghanistan, the United States pulled the last of its troops in late 2021 and the U.S. backed IRA government collapsed, replaced by the IEA. If the IEA does allow groups based in Afghanistan to make attacks on the United States or American in other countries, the response will be sanctions and air strikes on Afghanistan. Untrustworthy Afghan governments are nothing new, it is a tradition that is several centuries old. Outsiders are considered fair game for all manner of deceptions and costly mistakes while trying to do business in Afghanistan. The Americans proved to be the most lucrative victim and, after 20 years of persistent corruption, decided the situation was not going to change and left. The U.S. still supplies support for Afghanistan through its donations of UN food programs for Afghanistan.

The IEA recently persuaded some of the exiled finance and banking officials who had served the IRA to return and get the Afghan currency stabilized, while also enabling the Central Bank to handle more transactions and larger ones as well. The national currency, the Afghani, has also increased in value over the last year to the point where only 78 Afghanis were needed to buy a dollar. Since the Afghani was getting stronger it was easier to efficiently handle the $5.8 billion in aid received since mid-2021. The Central Bank can now ease limits on businesses or individuals withdrawing dollars. The Central Bank is considered stable and efficient by foreign investors and that accelerates plans by foreign companies to invest billions of dollars to create mining operations in Afghanistan.

China is negotiating with the Taliban government to provide food and other aid in exchange for allowing China to safely establish surveillance cameras throughout the country and use Afghanistan as a transit zone for Chinese operations in surrounding countries.

Inside Afghanistan, the only organized opposition to IEA rule is a successor to the 1990s Northern Alliance. This new anti-Taliban group reassembled in 2022 as the NRF (National Resistance Front) and initially appeared to be a major threat to IEA rule and possibly something that was more than the IEA could handle. NRF leaders blame the United States and the former IRA government. Both misjudged and mishandled efforts to deal with the ISIL and TTP (Pakistani Taliban) presence inside Afghanistan. Now the resistance to the revived Taliban rule in Afghanistan is opposed by an updated version of the pre-September 11, 2001, Afghan resistance. This time the United States was not interested in trying to remove a pro-Islamic terrorist government in Afghanistan.

Some of the NRF leaders are sons of successful Northern Alliance commanders. Iran threatened to provide more support to the NRF than they gave the Northern Alliance. By late 2022 the NRF dominated Panjshir province (northeast of Kabul) and believed they could resist any IEA attack. That was optimistic because IEA forces suffered some losses initially but soon turned that around and inflicted heavy losses on NRF in terms of gunmen, territory and local support. Now the NRF is based in northern neighbor Tajikistan and only conducts raids into Afghanistan. This was not a repeat of the 1990s when the Northern Alliance dominated the Panjshir Valley (a 90-minute drive from Kabul) right up to the defeat of the Taliban government after September 2001. Northern Front leaders became members of the IRA government and now their sons reassembled as the NRF, which had some initial success but no staying power. Not enough Panjshir Valley residents are willing to die opposing the ruthless IEA government. The remaining resistance fighters have moved north to Tajikistan.

 

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