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The Invisible Face of Afghanistan

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Afghanistan is a country that conflicts and wars have continued for nearly 40 years. Various ethnic and religious groups maintain their presence in the country. Since a healthy census has not been done in Afghanistan for a long time, it is impossible to reach healthy information about the demographic structure of the country. Still, according to World Bank’s (WB) data, the population of Afghanistan has approached 39 million.[1] 4.3 million of the population in question live in the capital, Kabul.[2] The Gross Domestic Product of the country is 20 billion dollars. Per capita income is approximately 550 dollars.[3] Poverty in the country brings malnutrition and various problems about health with itself. According to the data of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 4 out of 10 children in Afghanistan die before reaching the age of 1 in the year 2018.[4]

Afghanistan is a country that has various difficulties in itself, and its name has become more popular in international politics with the withdrawal of the United States of America (USA) and the increase of the Taliban’s control in the country. Particularly, the fall of Kabul has been indicated as a milestone to the international community. During the developments that have been experienced in Afghanistan, the regions outside of Kabul and events that happened in these geographies were ignored generally. In addition, approaching the Afghanistan issue only from the framework of women’s rights also prevents taking a detailed picture of the problems in the country.

There are four problems mentioned in Afghanistan: economy, education, health, and the undesirable legacy (violence/insecurity) left by the USA. First of all, it should be noted that the economy has been extremely worn out due to the conflicts experienced for many years. The former Kabul administration, which worked in cooperation with the USA, could not use the assistance sent to the country efficiently, especially due to the bribery and malpractice wheel. It is also known that Afghanistan has important underground resources. However, the conflict environment in the country prevented the utilization of these resources and the stabilization of the economy. Undoubtedly, one of the fundamental criteria for building a strong nation-state is the economy. In fact, Afghanistan has the opportunity to have a strong economy because of its underground resources claimed to be worth 3 trillion dollars, and also it is a key country in the north-south and east-west lines. However, success is not achieved in this subject.

The second biggest problem in Afghanistan is education. Raising knowledgeable and conscious generations, especially in the nation-state building process, is important in securing Afghanistan’s future. In a country where there is no strong economy and healthy education, it is very difficult to build a state and achieve social reconciliation. At the same time, it is almost impossible to achieve peacebuilding in such a society. According to the data of the United Nations (UN) Population Fund, 63.7% of the population of Afghanistan is under the age of 25, and with this feature, it is one of the countries with the largest youth population in the world. However, the literacy rate in Afghanistan is quite low. For example, 62% of young men and 32% of young women are literate.[5] The vast majority of young people, who have significant problems in education, only know about war and poverty. For this reason, Afghan youth have a tendency to terrorist organizations, organized crime groups, drug dealing, and immigration. In such an environment, it doesn’t matter who comes to power. For this reason, it is possible for the problems in Afghanistan to continue, to become chronic, and the Afghanistan Crisis to deepen.

A healthy society is needed to create a healthy nation. However, one of the most important problems of Afghanistan is the health system and services. As mentioned before, 4 out of 10 newborns in Afghanistan die before reaching the age of 1. Moreover, 60 out of every 1000 children under the age of 5 die from various causes.[6] There is also a problem of clean drinking water in the country. 33% of Afghan people have problems in accessing clean drinking water that is protected from external pollution. This situation also brings health problems with itself.[7] Health facilities in the country are generally not common. There is a shortage of personnel, equipment, and medicines at the facilities. This causes Afghans to go abroad for treatment.[8] Finally, according to WB data, while the average human lifespan in the world is approaching 73 years old; this rate is 65 in Afghanistan.[9]

The aforementioned data reveal the difficulties Afghanistan has faced and what kind of a country the USA has left behind after 20 years of occupation. Although progress has been made in some subjects, there is a country whose infrastructure has mostly been destroyed as a result of ongoing conflicts. On the other hand, the social structure has been damaged, the differences between various groups have become clear, violence has spread to a large part of the country and Afghanistan has become the world’s drug production center. In this process, the USA focused especially on military expenditures. Therefore, the most important issue to be discussed in the current conditions is what kind of country the USA left behind.

The United States has either built new military bases in many parts of the country or increased the capacity of previous bases during its time in Afghanistan. While the American Army was withdrawing from Afghanistan; the bases were handed over to the Afghan Army. However, in the reports published in the USA, it is stated that Kabul will come under the control of the Taliban in a few months; the fact that the USA did not destroy the bases and weapons is a critical detail. While causing great damage to the country’s infrastructure, the fact that military bases such as Bagram and Kandahar are not destroyed raises various questions in mind.

The first question to be asked is, “Did the United States really leave Afghanistan?”. It is an issue of concern whether these bases will continue to be used or not. Because the USA did not destroy the aforementioned bases and allowed them to be seized by the Taliban. So, what is the USA’s aim with this strategy? A short time ago, the Taliban entered Bagram Air Base. It is of great importance what the Taliban, which has been using hit-and-run tactics in conflicts for many years, will do and how they will use this base. At this point, the future of military bases in Afghanistan, especially Bagram and Kandahar, is an issue that needs to get attention.

It is possible to say that actually these problems cause uncertainty about the future of Afghanistan. However, in the statement of Pentagon Spokesman Eric Pahon to Newsweek, a sentence about the fate of the guns draws attention. In his statement, Pahon stated that although the Taliban’s seizure of the equipment is beneficial for the organization, it does not pose a threat to the United States and its allies.[10] Therefore, Pahon gives the message that the aforementioned weapons may pose a threat to regional actors that are not allied with the USA. The aforementioned statement also reveales that the dirty games on Afghanistan continue.

In short, Afghanistan does not just consist of Kabul. Reading Afghanistan through the developments in the capital, Kabul, ignoring other regions of the country and its main problems makes it difficult to reach healthy analyzes and accurate detection. Rather than who has control of Kabul; it is important whether the Afghan people will overcome these difficulties or not. Undoubtedly, perceptions about Afghanistan are tried to be directed and shaped with one-minute videos or a photo frame. However, in this process, a great Afghanistan fact is ignored. Instead of managing perceptions in order to solve the problems in Afghanistan and to prevent the immigration wave, for example, the invisible face of Afghanistan should be revealed. Because the fate of the Afghan people is too valuable to be left to perception management and the media.


[1] “Population, Total-Afghanistan”, The World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?end=2020&locations=AF&start=1960&view=chart, (Date of Accession: 06.09.2019).

[2] “Kabul Population 2021”, World Population Review, https://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/kabul-population, (Date of Accession: 06.09.2019).

[3] “Afghanistan GDP”, Trading Economics, https://tradingeconomics.com/afghanistan/gdp, (Date of Accession: 06.09.2019).

[4] “Health”, UNICEF, https://www.unicef.org/afghanistan/health, (Date of Accession: 06.09.2019).

[5] “Young People”, UNFPA, https://afghanistan.unfpa.org/en/node/15227, (Date of Accession: 06.09.2019).

[6] “Afghanistan”, UNICEF, https://data.unicef.org/country/afg/, (Date of Accession: 06.09.2019).

[7] “WASH: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene”, UNICEF, https://www.unicef.org/afghanistan/wash-water-sanitation-and-hygiene, (Date of Accession: 06.09.2019).

[8] “Women’s Access to Health Care in Afghanistan”, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/05/06/i-would-four-kids-if-we-stay-alive/womens-access-health-care-afghanistan, (Date of Accession: 06.09.2019).

[9] “Life Expectancy at Birth, Total (Years)”, The World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.LE00.IN, (Date of Accession: 06.09.2019).

[10] Tom O’connor-Naveed Jamali, “U.S. Military Says Equipment Left in Afghanistan ‘May Be Beneficial to Taliban’”, Newsweek, https://www.newsweek.com/us-military-says-equipment-left-afghanistan-may-beneficial-taliban-1624678, (Date of Accession: 06.09.2019).

Emrah KAYA
ANKASAM Dış Politika Uzmanı