After more than 30 years of war and conflict, Afghanistan is today a very poor country with 36 per cent of its population living in poverty. The country's resources are inadequate but also very unevenly distributed. There are large differences between urban and rural areas in living conditions and levels of development.
Afghanistan is governed by an elected president and parliament. In 2004 and 2009, the first elections in over 30 years were held and the last presidential elections were held in April 2014. In 2014, the presence of international troops should be gradually withdrawn, which is feared to lead to an even worse security situation as well as setback of progress made in recent years. The deteriorating security situation affects the work that Sweden supports as it makes it more difficult to implement interventions in certain parts of the country.
Afghanistan is a country that is highly dependent on aid funds. Its economy is poorly developed, with the exception of the illegal trade in narcotics. Despite long-standing conflicts, there are visible results of positive development, for example access to education, decline in child and maternal mortality, strengthened empowerment for women and better access to clean water – just to name a few.
Democracy and human rights
The Afghan society is traditionally decentralized, but the current constitution provides for a strong central power. The state is weak with poor legitimacy and limited control over parts of the country.
Afghanistan is described as one of the world's most corrupt countries and corruption is prevalent at all levels of society. An illustrative example of this is that half of all Afghans paid a bribe in order to obtain a public service in 2012. The human rights situation has improved distinctly after the fall of the Taliban, especially for women and girls. However, the situation in recent years has deteriorated again, partly due to the intensifying conflict and the worsening security situation, but also because of the inability of the rulers to satisfy basic human rights. The Afghan judicial system is weak, with a limited reach. Patriarchal customs and structures result in women and girls not seen as full citizens and denied their rights.
Few women can read and write
Nearly seven out of ten Afghans are under the age of 25 and the literacy rate is very low, especially among women – who were not allowed to attend school under the Taliban regime – and the rate is lowest in rural population. The education system suffers from major shortcomings, particularly in terms of availability of trained teachers, classrooms and textbooks.
The women teachers are few and schools are often far away from homes. Girls do not have the same opportunity to attend school as boys. This affects women's ability to participate in and influence society. However, it’s in the field of education that the greatest changes have taken place after the fall of the Taliban rule; in 2001 only 900 000 children attended school (basically none of them girls) while the figure increased to 7.5 million children in 2012. 39 percent of those were girls.
Infrastructure will help private sector grow
Most people in Afghanistan are dependent on agriculture for their survival. But drought, lack of a functioning market and the threat of landmines and unexploded ammunition makes it difficult for farmers to cope.
Since it is so profitable to cultivate poppy, which is used for opium, it's hard to get farmers to switch to other crops. To create other opportunities for rural livelihoods, the roads need to be rebuilt. This is one of Sida's initiatives in Afghanistan.
Despite major weaknesses and deficiencies, the Afghan state remains an important driver of change in Afghanistan. The first five years after the fall of the Taliban regime saw the rapid establishment of state institutions and a constitution that formally belongs to the most democratic in the region. Elections to the presidency, parliament and provincial councils were implemented, the international human rights conventions were incorporated into the Constitution, an independent human rights commission was established, media freedom was strengthened, systems for public financial management set up and public services was greatly expanded.
In some respects, these reforms achieved exceptionally good results. The public debate was stimulated by the establishment of a pluralistic media sector. Primary health care was expanded in large parts of the country. Access to education increased dramatically. Small-scale reconstruction efforts in rural areas created livelihoods for tens of thousands of Afghan villages. Reconstruction of infrastructure meant major improvements in road networks and telecommunications.
Despite the last years’ negative development and setback, many of the state's institutions are characterized by a strong technical expertise and willingness to change. The international community, including Sweden, has signed an agreement with the Afghan government on mutual commitments for the donors and for the cooperation country. The Afghan government has for example made a commitment to improve financial control and governance, combat corruption and strengthen human rights. Donors on the other hand, have pledged to support the Afghan government in its reform efforts, and that 80 per cent of aid should be aligned with the country’s own priorities. This agreement serves as a platform for development cooperation in Afghanistan.
The international commitment is large. Civil society is weak, but with a significant potential to build upon. The women's movement, social media and youth are also the actors of change with great potential.
Sweden's focus areas in Afghanistan:
- Democracy, Human Rights and Gender
- Development of the private sector