News / Asia

Next Afghan President to Tackle Ailing Economy

Supporters of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah attend a campaign rally in the Paghman district of Kabul, Afghanistan, June 9, 2014.
Supporters of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah attend a campaign rally in the Paghman district of Kabul, Afghanistan, June 9, 2014.
Spozhmai Maiwandi
More than three decades of continued conflict in Afghanistan has taken a toll politically, socially and psychologically.

But the greatest damage may have been inflicted on the country’s economy.

By 2001, agricultural production had been disrupted, local manufacturing had come to a halt, and basic infrastructure was destroyed largely because of the Taliban government. Since 2001 and the U.S.-led invasion, the advances made in the local economy have been largely dependent on foreign aid.

During this year’s presidential campaign, voters consistently raised concerns about their economic future.

What will happen to Afghanistan once foreign aid and investment levels off when the U.S. pulls out after 2014?

Landlocked and without access to any ports, Afghanistan has traditionally been an agrarian economy.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the country not only produced enough food for its own citizens but had a surplus, which was exported to neighboring countries and beyond. The chief export commodities were wheat and fresh/dried fruits. There was also an industrial sector, based on agriculture and pastoral raw materials. Goods produced included olive oil, carpets, and Karakul, a fine sheep’s wool native to Central Asia.  

Afghanistan is rich in mineral and precious stones deposits-resources such as copper, gold, and iron ore and gemstones including emeralds, rubies, and lapis lazuli.

Northern Afghanistan has untapped natural gas and oil resources. Because of its strategic location between Central Asia to the north and the ports of Pakistan to the south, various projects are currently underway to develop natural gas and oil pipelines through the country.

Economic growth

According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s economy has grown exponentially since the fall of the Taliban regime, from $2.462 billion in 2001 when the Taliban was ousted to $20.5 billion in 2012. That growth was due largely to the flow of international development monies.

The U.S. alone has spent more than $100 billion in non-military funds for reconstruction efforts.

The return of millions of Afghan refugees - many without homes and jobs - from Pakistan and Iran have further strained the already precarious economy. The population of the major cities has ballooned with returning refugees and people from the provinces looking for work.

Kabul alone has grown from a city of an estimated 500,000 in 2001 to nearly 3.3 million in 2012 inhabitants to more than 4 million.  Even in the capital city, the majority of Afghans still lack clean water, electricity, medical care, and jobs.

The situation is considerably worse in the provinces.  Afghanistan's living standards are among the lowest in the world, with an estimated per capita GDP of $1,100 in 2012.

Nine donors’ conferences between 2003 and 2010 raised more than $67 billion in military and civilian aid for Afghanistan reconstruction. An additional $16 billion in civilian aid was pledged by donors at the Tokyo conference in 2012.

Corruption

However, Afghanistan’s ability to absorb and spend such large amounts of money along with lax oversight has “created ample opportunities for corruption,” according to a U.S. military study in February.

In his latest report, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says corruption -- and insufficient oversight by the United States of its massive spending -- has led to “schools built so badly they are in danger of collapsing, clinics with no doctors or medical supplies, police and army barracks that are not fit to use, and roads that are disintegrating for lack of maintenance.”  
 
Afghanistan cannot survive, let alone prosper, on international aid monies. Not only is foreign aid likely to decrease as time goes on but also the industries that it has supported are not sustainable in the long term.

Whichever presidential candidate wins in the second round of national elections will have to face growing economic challenges.

Abdullah's plan

As former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani head toward Saturday’s presidential runoff, the candidates are faced with growing questions of how they plan to improve Afghanistan’s economy amid the challenges of low revenue collection, anemic job creation, high levels of corruption, weak government capacity, and poor public infrastructure. 
 
Abdullah Abdullah
 
  • Received 45 percent of vote in first round of presidential election
  • Served as Hamid Karzai's foreign minister
  • Ran for president in 2009
  • Was an eye doctor
  • Father is Pashtun, mother is Tajik

Ashraf Ghani
 
  • Received 32 percent of vote in first round of presidential election
  • Served as Hamid Karzai's finance minister
  • Ran for president in 2009
  • Former World Bank official and professor at Johns Hopkins University
  • Pashtun

In February 2014, during one debate, Abdullah, the presidential front-runner, said he would support large developmental projects for the construction of infrastructure as a means to boost the economy and to create jobs.

Without citing specifics, he added that the Ministry of Labor would be tasked with reducing unemployment. He also said his administration would have no tolerance for corruption. Abdullah has released a formal economic plan that includes expansion of industrial townships in provinces, foreign investment attraction, and the process of changing the country from a consumption economy to a production economy.

While discussing the issue of national economic development, Abdullah said that his government will focus on issues such as the establishment of a railway to connect southern and northern regions of the country, rehabilitation of basic infrastructure, development of the livestock sector, and promotion of self-reliance in the agriculture sector.

“Our economic policy is to change the country from a consumption economy to a production economy," Abdullah said. "This includes agricultural growth, mines extractions, construction, and other sectors that have the potential to boost the nation's incomes."

Ghani's plan

Ghani, who served as finance minister under President Hamid Karzai and worked as an economist in the World Bank, does not think that large developmental projects would be a major source of job creation.

In a presidential debate, Ghani proposed convening multiple commissions to study the issue of unemployment. Although he did agree that the construction of infrastructure would bring some unemployment relief, he added that given the primarily agricultural base of the Afghan economy, other measures, like strengthening the private sector, were important.

Ghani said the country would have to make major strides toward industrialization in order to become economically self-sufficient. He encouraged foreign donors to assist the country for a few years in this effort, and he cited India and China as two regional powers who already have shown interest in investing in the nation's future.

Running a successful campaign is a different matter than leading a country, and it is unclear whether and how either candidate’s campaign promises will translate into national policy.

And yet, after so many decades of violent transfers of governmental power, even this is a welcome problem.

You May Like

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs