Afghanistan Situation Report – October 2015
Insecurity – particularly in terms of safety, politics, and the economy – has plagued Afghanistan during the last few years. Before 2014, a wave of international support since the Taliban’s overthrow in 2001 allowed the country to accomplish a lot. Afghanistan enrolled millions of children in school, established a relatively free environment for the media, increased women’s participation in public life, and held five national elections.
After NATO endorsed an exit strategy for withdrawing forces in 2012, peace talks took place between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Once American troops began to leave in early 2014, instability steadily increased. In December 2014, NATO formally ended the war and transferred all responsibilities to the Afghan government.
Unfortunately, as the international community leaves the country, the state remains reliant on outside financial and technical sources for basic functions. Research shows that a major cause of instability in Afghanistan is the state’s inability or failure to promote the rule of law and be accountable.
Civilian Safety Threatened
Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces has intensified tremendously in 2015: the worst on record since 2001. Civilian deaths have increased all over the country and the Afghan forces are taking a large amount of casualties. President Ghani has put a lot of emphasis on negotiating with the Taliban, but that has not proven successful so far.
Afghanistan has the second highest rate of people fleeing to Europe, only behind Syria. On September 29, the Taliban took over the northern Afghan capital of Kunduz, forcing the Afghan military to retreat. Kunduz is particularly valuable to the Taliban because of the drug routes that run through it, which they use to finance their operations.
Inhabitants of Kunduz have reported that the Taliban is carrying out executions and lootings, despite its promise to govern in a more tolerant fashion. This is particularly worrying, as eastern Afghanistan has seen an increase in some Afghan militants shifting allegiance to the Islamic State (IS). In some places, the Islamic State has driven out the Taliban, then rounded up anyone associated with the government or Taliban and had them publically executed.
This is a huge setback for the government, requiring them to involve the United States in airstrikes against the Taliban. On October 5, Doctors Without Borders announced an airstrike targeting the Taliban hit one of their hospitals, leaving 22 people dead. An American commander took responsibility for the attack, saying it resulted from a chain of mistakes. This resulted in Doctors Without Borders closing their hospital, leaving the city short on trauma care. On October 15, President Obama announced he is halting military withdrawal in Afghanistan, allowing thousands of troops to remain on the ground until the end of his term in 2017. He believes an American military presence is important to Afghanistan’s future and will serve to strengthen national security in the United States.
Political Confusion and Upheaval
In June 2014, a complicated and confusing presidential election was held, resulting in an impasse when both candidates claimed victory. Ultimately, the National Unity Government of President Ashraf Ghani was sworn into office, with his rival Abdullah Abdullah taking the only slightly lesser role of chief executive officer. The presidential election was an attempt to improve stability and did just the opposite, creating further divisions.
Structural problems remain within the government, and have not been addressed since the new president and CEO were installed. Abuses by those in power are widespread. The United Nations, journalists, and human rights groups have accused the Kandahar police, in particular, of torture, forcible disappearances, and executions.
On the horizon, political problems continue with parliamentary elections planned and the introduction of a Loya Jirga, which aims to reform the constitution. In Afghanistan, a jirga is a group of leaders that make decisions based on the teachings of Islam. A Loya Jirga is a special type of jirga organized when a new head of state needs to be chosen, because of circumstances such as a sudden death, adopting a new constitution, or settling an issue. The Loya Jirga is important because it could alter many of the power arrangements in the country, and will also either ratify or destroy the current president-CEO structure of the government.
Economic Woes Increase
Since 2002, the economy has improved drastically due to the billions of dollars pumped into the country from foreign investments and international assistance. According to the International Monetary Fund, the Afghan economy grew by 20% in 2004, primarily because of the infusion of foreign aid.
The Afghan government believes the country is rich with mineral deposits, making it a very important region for mining. However, due to war and instability, Afghanistan is one of the world’s most under-developed countries. Thirty-five percent of the population is unemployed and 36% live below the poverty line.
In the last ten years, major companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have launched operations in Afghanistan. Many local mineral water and juice plants and other factories have been built, making the country less dependent on imports and increases opportunities for employment.
However, foreign direct investment declined by 30% in the first half of 2015 – a tough blow to a fragile economy. Jumpstarting the economy will continue to be a real challenge for the Afghan government. They must keep some of the international aid in the country, and increase investment, but these goals will be tough to reach if instability increases and corruption remains widespread. However, the U.S. Agency for International Development has invested more than $17 billion in development assistance for Afghanistan since 2002, and based on estimates for fiscal year 2016, that funding will not only remain in tact but will slightly increase in the future.
To find out more about safety and security for both international organizations and expats living abroad, check out the Afghanistan Country Risk Assessment Guide.
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