Afghanistan 2014: How Afghans are Taking Back Control


By Hyacinth Mascarenhas

War-torn, terrifying, under-developed.

To the rest of the world, Afghanistan is often seen as a country plagued with corruption, terrorism and war with a broken infrastructure, minimal technology and resources.

In 2001, Afghanistan emerged as a post-Taliban society willing to enter the global economic and political arena. Despite its current “donor economy,” the country has seen significant progress since then.

The potential that this small land locked country harbors and the progress it has made since the Taliban were removed from power 12 years ago is significant.

According to USAID reports, more than $1.5 billion in telecom investment has resulted in the creation of over 100,000 jobs in the local market. The World Bank’s January report indicated Afghanistan as the fastest growing economy in South Asian with a robust 11 percent increase in its economy. The country’s agricultural sector contributed 35 percent to its GRP growth in the year 2012.

Although progress is slow, some of its revolutionary technological advancements are not seen as prominently in the Western world.

M-Paisa, for example, is a revolutionary mobile banking trend that is not unheard of in the country and has spread throughout other developing countries such as Kenya and Indonesia. Introduced by the operator Roshan together with the Ministry of the Interior, the platform allows the user to pay or receive salaries through mobiles and then transfer those funds from mobile wallet to wallet making finances more secure in Afghanistan which is known to be of the most corrupt countries in the world. The service, which does not require its users to have a bank account, allows its user to boost the Afghan economy and avoid corrupt financial institutions.

The Afghan police and all of Roshan’s employees are paid using the platform “which spans across 230 cities and towns in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, according to a TechCrunch article.

“M-Paisa has made a big contribution toward eliminating corruption and theft in Afghanistan’s public sector,” says analyst Laurence Chandy at the Brookings Institution in Washington in a Times article. “It fundamentally changes what it means to be poor,” says Chandy.

All natural

Sitting at the cross-roads between Asia and the Middle East, Afghanistan holds a position for trade and commerce. Its natural resources, however, have attracted investors from all over the world.

According to a Times article, the country’s vastly untapped natural resources amount to an estimated $1 trillion to $3 trillion in gold, copper, iron, gas, oil and rare earths prompting both China and India to make huge bids from $1 billion to $3.5 billion a year for mining rights.

The ancient mine of Mes Anyak located 30 km south of Kabul is believed to be second largest untapped source of copper in world worth billions of dollars, according to Afghanistan’s Mining Ministry, and could lead to the creation of thousands of jobs.

“2014 is not the end. This is a new dawn in Afghanistan” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood when addressing U.S. plans to reduces the number of troops in Afghanistan by 2014, according to a Times article.

With the potential to tap into these valuable resources, Afghanistan could be on the threshold of immense wealth if its government and infrastructure allows for it.

Progress beyond its borders

Although the country’s current conflict and looming questions about its security and economic transition still pose doubts for many across the globe, is it enough to override its promising potential and progress since the fall of the Taliban?

“It is a conflict zone, for sure, there are a lot of terrible things that happen on a daily basis. But I think as a media consumer we are trained to expect these really terrible things,” said Anna Brones, co-producer of the Afghan Dreamers Project in a CS Monitor article. “There are a lot of really good people doing really amazing things, but the structure that they’re working within is pretty messed up and very difficult to work with. But after nearly a decade of war, I think highlighting our similarities is a lot more powerful that highlighting our differences.”

Some of its most stunning potential of the country, however, lie in its youth population.

Growing up in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Noorjahan Akbar spoke about seeing her friend getting leaving school and getting married in the seventh grade in a Glamour article.

Akbar, who came to the U.S. for high school and college, was accepted into the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund (AGFAF) which covered her expenses beyond her academic scholarship. She is currently a junior at Dickinson College.

Her activism and passion to make a change, however, was boundless.

In addition to forming Voices for Hope, a program that teaches Afghan orphans creative writing, Akbar has also cofounded Young Women for Change, an organization seeking gender equality in Afghanistan, and led a march against street harassment in Kabul. She is also responsible for the Sahar Gul Café, Afghanistan’s first all-female Internet café.

She was also the recent grand-prize winner of Glamour magazine’s 2013 Top U.S. College Women program.

Pursuing educational opportunities in the U.S. for Afghan women who “are committed to working for gender equality and improving life in Afghanistan,” AGFAF works in partnership with students, their natural and host families and education institutions to provide financial support beyond the capacity of its recipients or their families. Since its formation in 2008, the Fund “has assisted 25 students and raised $750,000 plus pro bono in kind help.”

“Our students are realistic about the problems confronting their country. However, they often talk with frustration that all the focus seems to be on war and corruption,” said Leo Motiuk, one of the fund’s founders. “They yearn for progress on health issues such as maternity mortality. As the AGFAF Yale student often says, all of us can learn a lot more by talking to the less visible Afghans and hear about their everyday life.”

Zainab Yusofi, another recipient of the AGFAF , says there is significant change taking place in Afghanistan.

“Unlike prior to September of 2001, people (especially women and girls) have opportunities to study and work in most parts of Afghanistan,” said Yusofi, a junior at College of St. Elizabeth. “Now, millions of girls go to schools. Women, as well, have access to health centers in most parts of the country. Reconstruction has been taking place.”

The Global studies major also said that the media coverage on her home country is “very unfair.”

“We always hear about how an Afghan dad sells his teenage girl to an elderly man, how a wife is killed by her husband, how Muslim men are cruel, brutal and criminal. Absolutely not with the majority,” she said. “Unless you travel to Afghanistan, you won’t know that Afghans are known to be the best hosts. However, we hardly ever hear about it in the US.”

Afghanistan has already entered its transitional period with the rest of the world keeping close watch on its conflict and economic stability. The change that is occurring both within the country and outside the country, however, is slow but sure.

“Change will only come when Afghans and the aid community walk away from the past and the old men who created it,” said Rangina Hamidi,founder and president of Kandahar Treasure in a Huffington Post article. “People who show change is possible in the face of conventional wisdom, which says don’t bother trying.”



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