Afghanistan: what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong

When the Taliban was ousted in 2001, there were seeds of hope across the country. The people of Afghanistan, weary from their dark past, embarked on a bright venture of nation and state building. They hoped for prosperity, freedom, and peace. The presence, cooperation and support from the international community galvanised this hope. Looking back, I could see a mix of both extraordinary progress and bitter failure.

First the progress. The country has progressed towards promotion and protection of human rights, women rights, freedom of expression, education – especially women’s education. It has held two successful rounds of presidential and parliamentary elections, provided public services and improved public infrastructure.

Now the failures. There has been a failure to provide two fundamental pillars of society: justice and security. A protracted conflict and deteriorating security situation, combined with a fragile justice system, have undermined and endangered all progress Afghanistan has made thus far.

Afghanistan’s new constitution guarantees basic human rights and freedoms for Afghans in the broadest possible way. However, its selective implementation has rendered it ineffective. Moreover, until constitutional rights are fully recognised, implemented and backed by further legislation and a sound judiciary, Afghans will continue to be disconnected from their basic rights.

Despite this, Afghan women, who were denied basic human rights and freedom under Taliban rule, have found a new and more open environment. Today, they hold positions in parliament, sit in top cabinet positions and represent the country at various national and international events. Nonetheless, structural, traditional, societal and political challenges such as domestic violence, patriarchal views of society, poverty, conflict and insecurity remain significant obstacles to further development of women’s rights.

> Map of Afganistan
An expanded and accessible education system has been a success for Afghanistan. According to the latest statistics of the U.S. State Department, more than six million children are able to go to school. Some 32% of them are girls. With children back to school, Afghanistan can anticipate a brighter future. But attention to quality education, better facilities and more qualified teachers - especially female teachers - are necessary.

More Afghans (65%) have access to healthcare services and facilities than at any other time in the country’s history. But we all know that quality still remains a huge challenge. Newly-constructed clinics and hospitals are in dire need of skilled staff. And availability of medication and equipment remains a big concern.

Politically , the country has laid some foundations, albeit fragile ones. It held two rounds of presidential, provincial and parliamentary elections, although elections were marred with fraud and irregularities. I don’t believe that President Hamid Karzai’s administration has proven itself as an effective and honest government - but no previous governments have offered a better deal. Over time, I hope political parties and the government apparatus will demonstrate a greater ability to make important decisions.

The Afghan army, equipped with modern technology, disciplined and under control of civilian authority is another achievement for Afghanistan. However, the government has struggled to raise a national civilian police force capable of upholding the law, ensuring order and protecting its citizens. Nonetheless, continuous efforts have been made to improve the situation in the larger cities.

So far, the constant presence of international forces has helped prevent the country from falling into a civil war. But it remains to be seen if peace and security can be provided for Afghans on a sustainable basis.

The country’s social and economic development has been steady. It’s lifting hundreds of thousands of Afghans from absolute poverty and providing an opportunity to earn daily wages through reconstruction or infrastructure projects. Entrepreneurial initiatives ranging from poultry to handicraft through microfinance and other initiatives have not only empowered the status of women in their families, but have also changed norms. This must be sustained.

Promoting and protecting human rights has been at the core of public and international policy in Afghanistan. And there have been several improvements, particularly in civil and political rights. Afghanistan has seen media grow both in terms of quantity and quality. Prison conditions have improved, torture has decreased and - to a lesser extent - there have been improvements in due process and fair trial.

But, a decade after the invasion of Afghanistan, the lack of a reliable and fair justice system remains the major failure in the country. Although, efforts have been made to restore and revive our justice system, sadly, Afghans continue to view the progress negatively. Without a strong, independent and functioning justice system, we have little chance of success on other fronts.

We have a very long road ahead of us, both Afghans and the international community alike. To further the hard-earned achievements of the past 10 years, preserve our progress and build on our success, we must continue to work together. We need a strong emphasis on good governance, justice, human rights, strong civil society and provision of security. We have to continue to invest in education, healthcare and job creation. The government has to become more responsive, deliver more and make real commitments to fighting corruption.

The international community must protect Afghanistan from foreign interference promoting radicalisation and terrorism.

I believe we will thrive and emerge stronger. But only if we maintain our patience, pursue our goals and adhere to our values.