Monday September 20, 2021

New Afghanistan

Education: In 2001, primary school student enrollment in Afghanistan stood at 773,623. It has now grown to over 7 million. In 2001, total student enrollment – primary school to university – was estimated at 900,000 which has since grown to 10 million. Of the 10 million, 39 percent are girls. Twenty years ago, there were some 35,000 teachers. The number has since grown to around 220,000. And of the 220,000 teachers around 30 percent are women.

Interestingly, in 1978, “women made up 40 percent of the doctors and 60 percent of the teachers at Kabul University.” Afghanistan’s higher education system is “represented by 63 universities with 437 study programs….378 Bachelor programmes, 50 Master programmes and 9 PhD programmes at 4 universities.” This year, some 56 percent of the “participants of the Herat University entrance exam were girls.”

Electricity: In 2005, 22 percent of the Afghan population had access to electricity. The number has now grown to 97.7 percent of the population (Source: The World Bank). Twenty years ago, Kabul used to get roughly three hours of electricity a day. Since 2002, more than $4 billion have been spent on improving Afghanistan’s power infrastructure. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has played a crucial role. ADB pumped in $40 million to build a transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri north of Kabul to Uzbekistan. Another $56 million from ADB links Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Afghanistan now imports more than 670MW of electricity from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Iran for $280 million a year. Most residents of Kabul now have access to 24-hour electricity. Between 2006 and 2019, four power plants have been commissioned – Istalif, Salma, Tarakhil and Bayat. Between 2012 and 2019, four solar powered projects have come online – Bamyan, West Herat, Kabul and Kandahar.

Roads: In 2001, Afghanistan had “only 50 miles of paved roads''. Over the past 20 years, $3 billion were spent on roads. National Highway 1, or the Ring Road, is a 2,000km "two-lane road network circulating inside Afghanistan, connecting Kabul, Maidan, Ghazni, Kandahar Delaram, Herat, Maymana, Sheberghan, Mazar Sharif, Pul-e-Khumri and back to Kabul.” National Highway 1 “has extensions that also connect Jalabad, Bamyan, Khost, Lashkargah, Zarank, Farah, Islam Qala, Torghunid and Kunduz.”

Economy: Thirty five years ago, there were at least seven different versions of the Afghani currency – as each warlord had issued his own currency – with trillions of banknotes in circulation. There was no central bank, no monetary policy, no cross-border payment system and no foreign exchange reserves. In 2003, Da Afghanistan Bank Law went into effect. Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), the central bank, began targeting monetary aggregates, using instruments to influence the price level and the smooth functioning of the banking sector (the rate of inflation in Afghanistan is 5.6 percent).

Afghanistan now exports goods worth $2.5 billion and imports stand at around $7 billion. The central bank governor took a military flight out of Afghanistan and DAB’s $9 billion foreign exchange reserves were frozen by US President Biden.

The internet: Twenty years ago, the internet was banned. Now there are seven million users; 57 percent Twitter, 39 percent Facebook, 2 percent YouTube, 1.2 percent Pinterest and 0.44 percent Instagram.

Yes, the state collapsed right in front of our eyes but there exists a new civil society – a new vibrant civil society. Imagine: the median age in Afghanistan is 18.4 years. There’s a new Afghanistan out there – a lot more educated and a lot more connected.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh