The page opened at the turn of the century is turning. With the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan, marked by the capture of Kabul on Sunday August 15, the country leaves behind two decades of conflict, accompanied by a heterogeneous development of the country.
Cost of war, growth, inequalities, socio-demographic progress … To understand the scope of this metamorphosis, franceinfo has selected several indicators.
The results of twenty years of war
On October 7, 2001, less than a month after the September 11 attacks, the first American bombings were carried out against Taliban forces. Twenty years later, the number of deaths linked to the clashes is estimated at more than 171,000, according to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, at Brown University (United States).
In the first place are the Afghan police and military, but the conflict has also claimed more than 51,600 civilian casualties. In early 2020, the United Nations noted that 46% of them were women or children. On the side of the American military and their allies, there are a little more than 3,500 deaths, but also 3,800 deaths of American contractors, counted here among civilians.
Twenty years of war have also forced millions of Afghans to leave their home territory for other countries or other Afghan provinces. As shown in the graph below, two years were particularly marked in terms of internal displacement: 2001, during the American intervention, and 2015, due in particular to the conflict between the Islamic State and the Taliban.
At the beginning of July 2021, the United Nations already counted more than 270,000 displaced since the start of the year. Consequence of the American withdrawal, the Taliban advance, but also the drought or the Covid-19 epidemic. The High Commissioner for Refugees identifies 2.5 million Afghan refugees around the world, while the country has 38 million inhabitants.
Side American finances, estimates put these twenty years of war at more than 2,200 billion dollars. An amount astronomical which does not even take into account the future pensions of American soldiers for example, who were up to 100,000 on Afghan territory at the height of the conflict.
Rapid growth, but worsening inequalities
These billions of dollars spent by the US military, but also international aid to support the development of the country, were reflected in sustained growth from 2000 to 2015. While the national GDP peaked below 5 billion dollars in in the early 2000s, it exceeded 20 billion in 2012. Since then, it has fluctuated between 18 and 20 billion.
“THEgrowth is due to the injection of foreign financial aid, it is not generated organically by the country itself “, supports Kaweh Kerami, professor of political science at the American University of Afghanistan. “Billions have been spent, and an enormous amount of money wasted, benefiting contractors or other foreign stakeholders. A very small group of people absorbed a lot of money. Afghanistan would have been much more secure and stable if the money had been distributed directly to households “, he believes.
In fact, the billions injected and an exploding GDP have not prevented an increase in inequalities. Data calculated by the World Bank show that the poverty rate fell from less than 37% in 2007 to 54.5% in 2020. In other words, more than one in two Afghans lives below the poverty line. . And these inequalities are also geographic. While Kabul has 34.3% of its population below the poverty line in 2020, that figure exceeds 80% in some provinces.
The Afghan economy is largely based on the cultivation of the opium poppy, of which the country is the world’s largest producer. Mainly produced in the southwest of the country, opium is converted into heroin, consumed in Afghanistan, but also towards Europe, the main commercial destination. While the cultivation of the opium poppy was kept at a relatively low level when the Taliban was in power – they levied a tax on the production of this drug – the cultivated area has exploded during the last twenty years.
For Gilles Dorronsoro, professor of political science at the University of Paris 1 and specialist in Afghanistan, “The Taliban made less money from opium than government networks, especially the clan of former President Hamid Karzai, one of the actors in the opium trafficking in the south of the country.” And the question of opium eradication is complex. “Given the deep economic crisis in Afghanistan, it is impossible to think of eradicating opium without economic aid that compensates for the losses. We have fragile populations in terms of food, with a violent drought for several years “, he explains.
Several socio-economic indicators in progress
In this very contrasting economic context, several indicators suggest that the lives of Afghans have generally improved. Life expectancy, which was around 55.8 years in 2000, had increased to 64.8 years in 2019, according to World Bank data. A continuous increase that has nevertheless also experienced the neighboring countries of Afghanistan. Like cell phone use, internet usage has increased, but with 11% of the population having access to it, the country lags behind internationally.
From the point of view of education, there is much progress to be made. For Mohammad Yasin Samim, technical advisor in the Afghan Ministry of Education, who was still in office until recent weeks, “iThere has been a very rapid growth in terms of access to education, both private and public, with an expansion of infrastructure for education. In 2001, we had a million children in school. In 2020, around 9.6 million. Education was no longer reserved for the elite “, he congratulates himself.
The upheaval was all the more marked for women. While they represented a tiny proportion of high school students in the early 2000s, they were nearly 40% in 2017, the last year with figures.
Here again, strong territorial inequalities are emerging. “It was more possible to develop access to education in the north and northeast of the country. But in other places, like in Kandahar, in the south, the Taliban controlled certain areas, making much more complicated to develop education there “, details Mohammad Yasin Samim.
Without denying an evolution of Afghan society, some experts note a development of the country in a forced march, having contributed to the recent overthrow of power by the Taliban. “How sustainable was that really? asks Kaweh Kerami. All this developed very quickly, but without taking into account the context of the country. We can see that as soon as the Americans withdrew, everything collapsed. They had money and soldiers, but did not align their action, aimed at installing a very centralized presidential system, on the historically decentralized structure of society, in particular because of the geography of the country or the presence of different ethnicities. “
Many uncertainties hover over the further development of Afghanistan. With the fear that the progress made over the last twenty years will be reduced to nothing. “I’m afraid that all we have accomplished is lost, says Mohammad Yasin Samim, from the Ministry of Education, and that Afghanistan can no longer be competitive in the region or internationally. Perhaps the Taliban will maintain an education ministry made up of technocrats, not politicians or clerics, which could help maintain access to education for as many people as possible. But I am quite pessimistic. “