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Afghanistan_economy Afghanistan is a nation with a turbulent history. It is a nation embattled as a result of the many conflicts that have transpired within its borders. In recent years, Afghanistan has sustained a steady disfiguration of its landscape as a result of the protracted War on Terror, along with the various terrorist activities in the nation which several militaries, the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) most notably among them, have sought to suppress. Before the War on Terror, Afghanistan started to incur devastating losses in a war with the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989, during which over one million Afghanis were killed. Afghanistan was again challenged by a brutal civil war in the 1990s in which extensive violence led to more casualties and internally displaced persons. Conflict in Afghanistan has thus resulted in enduring regional instability over the past 35 years, much to the detriment of national infrastructure improvement. Consequently, economic development has been difficult to implement as well as sustain. Afghanistan performs poorly in many areas considered benchmarks of human development. On the actual human development index, Afghanistan ranks 172nd in the world out of the 187 countries that were surveyed. The performance of the nation’s economy is consistent with the assertions of its human development index ranking. The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Afghanistan is $1,399 and is ranked 161st in the world by the World Bank. The country’s literacy rate is also among the lowest in the world at 28.1%. In spite of Afghanistan’s persisting limitations, it has seen significant progress over the course of the past decade. Enrollment in Afghanistan’s schools has increased to nearly eight million from its 2002 total of just one million. Access to basic health resources increased from 9% to 60% between 2003 and 2012, and the number of healthcare facilities saw an increase of over 100% in the same period. Significant improvements were observed in the country’s energy infrastructure as well. Since 2004, the number of Afghani homes with access to grid power increased from 6% to 25%. As a result of investment in these areas, especially in the case of healthcare, both employment and the economy at-large have performed well and experienced steady growth. For the entirety of the War on Terror, total GDP exhibited average growth of 9.2% topping out at 11.8% in 2012 as a result of advantageous weather conditions and, as a result, a booming agricultural sector. The agricultural sector in Afghanistan, which constitutes over 70% of the country’s economy, has been aided by the administration of the World Bank’s National Solidarity Program. The National Solidarity Program has also led to the creation of 34,000 Community Development Councils. Many of these councils have garnered further investment from the World Bank totaling $1.12 billion, funding thousands of projects that these local collectives have sought to introduce. With the complete withdrawal of NATO security forces from Afghanistan set to take place in 2014, the economic outlook for the country is riddled with unresolved security concerns. Since 2001, the security apparatus in Afghanistan has been comprised almost exclusively of foreign troops, and their withdrawal is anticipated to have potentially severe implications for future development efforts. Contrastingly, in yet another period of war, Afghanistan has seen unprecedented growth of infrastructure considered necessary for poverty-reduction. In spite of security concerns that will likely take a long time to address, there is certainly cause to be optimistic about the progress that has been forged in Afghanistan since 2002. – Benjamin O’Brien Sources: Transparency International, World Bank Photo: Able2know

U.S. involvement in Afghanistan
The roller coaster ride of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan continues to twist and turn even as it nears its end. If security issues and a Taliban insurgency are not put in check, the withdrawal of U.S. troops could cause getting off of that symbolic rollercoaster to be even bumpier and more dangerous than the rocky ride itself.

The Taliban, in the short term, are not expected to take over the country, Afghan security forces, standing at 350,000, greatly outnumber the current 84,000 international troops deployed in the region.

Even as international troops are deployed to less than one fifth of their present number, Afghan’s provincial capitals are mightily defended. The largest city in Afghanistan’s south, Kandahar, has seen attacks by insurgents drop in half since 2011 at the high point of influence by American troops.

So, what is there to worry about?

Impending elections and the vulnerability of small outlying outposts torment the collective conscious of Afghan civilians. Smaller districts experiencing a pullback of international troops have described in increase in attacks by the Taliban. Residents fear a takeover by these insurgent forces in the coming years of political transition and global extraction.

Wheat in some districts rose to numerous times its normal price as a result of roadblocks and other siege methods used by insurgents. In these cases, the Taliban has surrounded some towns and cut off supplies while prohibiting police and soldiers to access medical attention for simple injuries or illnesses, leaving them to die from preventable causes.

Upcoming elections mean Afghan president Hamid Karzai, accused of fraternizing with the Taliban enemy, will be stepping down. Fraud, corruption and security issues are not absent from the problems anticipated in the election process. It is possible to stop these complications from having substantial impact on the legitimacy of the election as a whole, yet there must be guidelines and rules to keep the situation in check.

It would be sophomoric to assume these rules would completely resolve extreme mistrust and conflict between candidates and their parties, and as such the international community has been advised to keep this in mind. The concept of an internationally mandated mediator is on the table, and could possibly ease tensions to some degree. Some even surmise that the election process may help advance peace talks with the Taliban.

Security issues with U.S. involvement in Afghanistan

U. S. involvement in Afghanistan has been, some may say, far too long. Reducing troop numbers and assistance levels is a necessary step to eventual withdrawal from the country.

Yet how much security remains necessary is under debate.

In order for a few NATO troops to remain in the country to advise and help administer the transitional process, Afghanistan and the U.S. need to sign a bilateral security agreement. Karzai is hesitant in this regard, having refused to sign the document multiple times.

Self sufficiency and independent governance in a secure and prosperous environment are among many hopeful goals the international community sets for Afghanistan’s future. These goals are not unachievable. It just may take some time, and some awareness of the country’s situation, to get there.

-Jaclyn Stutz 

Sources: The New York Times
Photo: DC Clothesline

women's_rights_in_afghanistan
The rights and legal protection of women in Afghanistan are in jeopardy. Since July 2013, four female police officers have been killed; in addition, there have been multiple assassination and kidnapping attacks against female members of parliament. Recent allegations that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been fraternizing with the Taliban, a fundamentalist group that does not believe women should be allowed outside of the home; the knowledge that various candidates for the upcoming April presidential election share this view does not help allay fears.

A hopeful turn of events came on February 17, when Karzai demanded that a proposed law return to the ministry of justice to be amended. The law would have essentially muted claims of domestic violence and forced or child marriages by barring judicial authorities from questioning the defendant’s relatives. While the law had already passed in both houses of parliament, international campaigns for women’s rights highly criticized the legislation as a “major setback for women’s rights.”

Whether or not the amendment will fully mend the issue at hand is questionable. Hamid Karzai’s spokeswoman, Adela Raz, has not specified the alterations being discussed for the law, and Heather Barr of Human Rights Watched asserted that the law possesses two large problems; however, the government is only fixing one so far. The fact that changes are being considered, however, is reason enough for some to feel optimistic.

According to a December 2013 United Nations report, violence against women increased by 28 percent. The original format of the law, in accordance with fundamentalist beliefs, signaled to some a return of the Taliban to power. This contemplation of a major flip in criminal law shows that advocacy is not dead. Activists and diplomats, both domestically in Afghanistan and internationally, launched a dynamic campaign against the legislation as soon as its details were made public.

Some may claim that Karzai was slow to act on behalf of those opposing the law. But in the face of sluggish bureaucratic formalities and pressure from the Taliban, Karzai did not fail to act. There is hope yet for women’s rights in Afghanistan, and all over the world.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, The Guardian
Photo: New York Times

jamila_bayaz_afghanistan_police_chief
Afghanistan has appointed a new police chief, and her name is Jamila.

Colonel Jamila Bayaz, Afghanistan’s first female police chief, was appointed on January 14. She’ll head up the first District of Kabul, one of the most important parts of Afghanistan’s capital city.

“This is a chance not just for me, but for the women of Afghanistan,” the 50 year-old mother of five told NBC News.

The announcement is a triumph for the violence-torn country where most girls do not go to school for more than six years.

Based on recent gender equality rankings, statistics on maternal mortality rate and the high number of attacks on girls’ schools, Amnesty International has called Afghanistan one of the worst countries in which to be a woman.

Concerning female police officers, there are only between 1,500 and 2,000 total throughout the entire country- representing less than one percent of Afghanistan’s police force. Unsurprisingly, they serve mainly in gender and administrative units.

Bayaz is the first female officer to be promoted to such a senior rank, to which she has said “I will not waste it. I will prove I can handle this burden.”

Suggesting steadfast commitment to her newfound role, Bayaz has said she only took the job after being granted “full authority.”

“Before this post,” she said, “I was offered a similar one but I refused to accept it because I told them I would not accept a symbolic job.” Bayaz had previously worked in the investigative branch in the Kabul police headquarters.

Kabul’s provincial police chief, Major General Mohammad Zahir, applauded Bayaz’s appointment, calling it a “wise step” taken by the interior ministry. He added, during the small ceremony for the occasion held at her police station, that “women are capable of working like men.”

Sediq Sediqi, a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, called Bayaz’s appointment a first step in promoting women within police ranks: “We will see a female provincial police chief in the near future,” he claimed.

Supporting such a notion is the announcement by the Interior Ministry that it planned to increase the number of female officers to 10,000 by the end of the year, with an intention to continue to promote more women up the ranks.

On her safety, Bayaz said “My children are worrying about me, but I am optimistic that I will stay safe.”

Her children’s concerns are not unfounded. In 2013 alone, amid rampant gender-based violence throughout the country, unknown attackers killed two senior female police officers in the southern province of Helmand.

Despite all the dangers and the long road ahead for women in Afghanistan, Bayaz’s tone was one of gratitude.

“I want to thank America and the international community for all of their help and support. I would not be here today if it weren’t for all their assistance,” she said.

Kelley Calkins

Sources: Amnesty International, Al Jazeera, Global Post, NBC News
Photo: Powervrouwen

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In December 2013, the United States Congress allocated $25 million in funds to support the operations of female soldiers in the Afghan National Army. The appropriation was a part of the 52nd National Defense Authorization Act and will be used to increase and strengthen female forces.

Women are currently a rough 1% of the Afghan National Police and .3% of the Afghan National Army.

Michelle Barsa, Senior Manager for Policy at Inclusive Security Action, actively works with female forces in the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army to increase their numbers. She writes in The Daily Beast that the benefits of more women in Afghanistan’s security ranks are multi-faceted, and current low numbers are a serious security concern.

Most polling stations in Afghanistan are sex-segregated, which means that stations require female security officers to remain open. A shortage of women in the ranks has meant that women’s polling stations have remained closed, effectively denying many Afghan women their right to vote.

Barsa asserts further, “There’s a lot riding on the April 2014 presidential election—not least, protections for women’s rights. The best way to maintain the hard-earned gains of Afghan women is to elect a president who will uphold them. And the best way to elect a president of that profile is to enable women to vote.”

Security issues also arise when there are not enough female security forces.

In 2012, there were a reported 13 incidents of men dressing as women to enter restricted locations and wage insurgent attacks. Since sexual taboos dictate that men are forbidden from searching women at checkpoints, there emerged a security blind spot.

Had there been female security officers, Barsa argues, the men could have been searched and stopped before committing these attacks.

Further, women in military ranks serve to expand engagement with male and female citizens, increasing the effectiveness of military operations and allowing forces to better respond to the needs of their community. For example, upwards of 87% of women in Afghanistan will be a victim of domestic violence or forced marriage during their lives.

Analysts state that women are more likely to report domestic violence or sexual assault to female officers, who in turn are more likely to investigate the accusations.

Militarily, female forces are learning to conduct home raids, which had proven problematic when carried out by American forces due to cultural barriers and sensitivities.

Women have been recruited into Afghan Special Forces since 2011, a move coming during a critical time of American troop pullout from Afghanistan and amid emerging concerns over the safety and rights of women upon the United States’ departure from the traditionally conservative nation.

Barsa stresses that female participation in security forces is crucial for maintaining women’s rights and for supporting an inclusive transition in Afghanistan. For this reason, she states, Congressional funding cannot come soon enough.

She writes, “Billions later, Congress is finally realizing that peace and stability are, in fact, contingent on [women’s participation].”

Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: The Daily Beast, Euronews
Photo: The Sacramento Bee

drug_use_russia
Krokodil, a flesh-eating morphine derivative intended to imitate the effects of heroin, has been attracting international intention for its devastating flesh-eating effects.

Krokodil is easily made with common household chemicals. It includes codeine and a combination of iodine, paint thinner, lighter fluid and hydrochloric acid that only need to be cooked for 30 minutes.

Although its short-term effects are pleasant – a heroin-type high sans nausea – repeated exposure causes users’ skin to become scaly, then rots their flesh from the inside out. The average lifespan of a krokodil user is 2-3 years.

The drug, a homemade variant of desomorphine, has sedative and analgesic properties similar to those of morphine. Desomorphine was originally patented in 1932 by Frederick Small Lyndon, after which it was widely distributed in Switzerland under the brand name Permonid.

Although krokodil was developed decades ago, it has only gained notoriety in the past few years – not until this past month has krokodil shown up in the United States. The krokodil trend first took off in Russia, where a stuttering economy has caused widespread clandestine manufacturing of the drug in order to meet demand for a cheap heroin substitute.

Opiate addiction is rampant in Russia, partially because of its proximity to Afghanistan. The Huffington Post reports that Afghanistan provides Russia’s 2.5 million heroin addicts with 70 tons of heroin each year – accounting for more than 20 percent of annual global drug consumption.

Many of the country’s poor, seeking an affordable way to sustain their addiction, have turned to krokodil as a heroin substitute. The drug is especially pervasive among homeless people and prostitution rings. New York’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services estimates that 1 million Russians now use krokodil, equivalent to 40 percent of the Russian population already addicted to heroin.

Krokodil is deceptively lethal. Many users falsely assume that the cooking process removes impurities from the drug. This is not true. Even after cooking, the drug retains chemicals that almost immediately cause the body to deteriorate. The drug’s use is most prevalent among poor people already addicted to hard drugs.

Because the krokodil trend is relatively new, health professionals do not fully understand the drug’s long-term effects. They continue to investigate as new victims are hospitalized. However, because krokodil is usually homemade and has ingredients that vary by manufacturer, the effects of krokodil will vary case-by-case.

– Matt Berg

Sources: Espacenet, Huffington Post1, Huffington Post2, OASAS, LA Times

Photo: The Parallax Brief

21st Century Child Labor Global
According to the International Labor Organization, approximately 211 million children are working around the world. These children range from ages five to 14, and most are working in order to provide support for their poor families. Nearly 128 products from 70 countries are made through child labor – many cases of which are forced child labor. While some children elect to start working at a young age to help support their families, many are forced into labor and treated as slaves in bondage.

In addition to poor treatment, the work environments children are forced to work in are often dangerous and harmful to their health. When children are sent to scour hazardous lakes filled with toxins in order to search for metals and jewels, the consequences are extremely damaging to their health. Much of the merchandise purchased by Americans is made in other countries, many of which are still developing and relying on labor from children. Children are often forced into labor by their government, or their government simply ignores the fact that companies and factories are forcing children to work for their own profit. Some of the products made by children include clothes, tobacco, metals, jewels, food items, pornography, holiday decorations, and electronic goods. This wide span of merchandise leaves little that child labor has not infiltrated.

In the worst cases of child labor, children are used much like slaves. In these cases, children are trafficked, often times forcing them to deal in illegal activities like drug trafficking, prostitution, and weapon conflict. Binding the children in debt is another method used by companies to ensure that the children will continue to work under their authority.

According to a report conducted by the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, India has the highest percentage of child workers. India is followed by China, which is then followed by smaller countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In 2008, as many as one in every four children in sub-Saharan Africa were forced into labor, and commonly sent to work in diamond mines and factories. In Ethiopia, an estimated 60 percent of children are forced into labor to help support their families, the child’s income usually amounting to a dollar a month.

In Afghanistan, an increasing number of underage girls are being sold in order to pay off debt, and more than 30 percent of children are working in major industries rather than attending school. Some of the worst forms of child labor occur in Somalia where 40 percent of children under the age of 15 are forced to engage in sex slavery and armed conflict.

Though the statistics concerning child labor may seem bleak, an increasing number of organizations and nations are rising up to help put an end to child labor. The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) is an advocacy organization that has been fighting for years to redesign working conditions across the world focusing on women in the workforce, sweatshops, and child labor. The U.S. Labor Department has also joined the stand against child labor: one of its recent reports says that Brazil is no longer relying on child labor for coal production, and that India and other countries have started anti-poverty programs to help end child labor.

– Chante Owens

Sources: Fox Business, International Labor Rights Forum, Business Insider
Photo: NYTimes

super_bad
In global relations, a states ability to influence others is inextricably hinged upon power. How a given state chooses to exert this power is conditional upon two characteristics: what type of power it may posses, whether it be military, economic, or diplomatic; what their desired outcome may be. Historically, the most visible type of power is hard, or military, power. Without dispute, hard power, as a show of force, certainly plays a role in coercing states actions. Objectively, however, adequate influence relies on not only the stick, but also the carrot.

In the simplest of terms, directing action, whether it is of an animal or a state, is often far more effectual when sought through rewards rather than punishment. If you wish to train a puppy to sit, you will find far more success with treats rather than with punishment. States aren’t much different.

The one principal to bear in mind is the fact that, no matter what, a state will always act in its own interest. This is why the United States arms both the Israeli army as well as the Saudi Arabian army. At its core, a states decision to act in any meaningful way is conditional upon the whims of its leaders. Influencing these leaders is the key to achieving a desired outcome.

In a recent article, I discussed what it meant to be a failed state. While political scientists have yet to develop a concrete definition of a failed state, most agree that falling below the Montevideo criteria indicates an inability to function as a state, resulting in questions of the leaders legitimacy. Of these criteria, the most critical to is the states ability to provide for its population. For a powerful nation such as the United States, aiding in the development and legitimacy of a far off state works wonders in influencing a course of action.

Political scientist Joseph Nye coined this aid, or soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.” While this term may be new for many, the core ideal of which it represents is certainly nothing new. Foreign aid, to name one, is the most powerful form of soft power. In a recent press release, the United States State Department, has justified this aid “The FY2014 budget request of $47.8 billion supports U.S. engagement in over 180 countries, and provides the people and programs necessary to protect U.S. interests, promote peace and ensure America’s leadership in the world.

While this request amounts to less than 1% of the FY2014 budget, the diplomacy leverage it affords us is invaluable. In fact, the first line of diplomatic defense when a state goes rogue, is to sanction, or cut off, this aid.

Over the course of the passed decade, the merits of soft power have proven so effectual that certain aspects have been absorbed into the military. As part of General McChrystals counterinsurgency plan (COIN), along with partnering with Afghan leaders, is to leverage economic initiatives. Through helping build up communities, it is hoped that the United States and allied forces will discourage destruction and extremism. Moreover, through building schools and hospitals, the plan aimed to win the hearts and minds of the populace, effectively dislodging the seeds of extremism.

Through foreign aid and other aspects of soft power, we have seen global development enter an era of increasing promise. Through such programs, previously underdeveloped countries are coming online and, subsequently, poverty rates continue to drop. While military preeminence and the doctrine of second-strike capability played an ominous role in keeping war at bay in the past, it seems that for further development, it must become nothing more than a relic of the past.

 – Thomas van der List
Sources: UCLA International, State.gov

us_food_aid
With global economic hegemony, many believe it is the inherent responsibility of the United States to project its wealth out unto those who are less fortunate. As the purported “City upon the Hill”, the United States has employed various forms of foreign aid aimed at bringing up less fortunate global actors. As we will see, foreign aid takes on many forms and is directed towards not only the poorer nations. More often than not, foreign aid is funneled to promote American interests, rather than humanitarian ones. The earliest incantation of foreign aid, the 1948 Marshall Plan, is largely responsible for bringing Europe out of the destruction of World War II, yet its inspiration was to stem the spread of communism throughout Europe. Today, foreign aid has proven to be a valuable arrow in our diplomatic quiver in both humanitarian and geopolitical senses. The following list represents the top three recipients of U.S. foreign aid in 2012, and, perhaps, provides some insight into the varying purposive goals of U.S. foreign aid.

1. Israel ($3.075 Billion)

If you pay any attention whatsoever to American politics, it is no secret that the subject of Israel is a weighty one when it comes to U.S. international and domestic political considerations. Moreover, Israel’s yearly position as the top recipient of U.S foreign aid sheds light on the nature of foreign aid. Israel is by no means a developing nation. In fact, the private Israeli sector is spearheading a new age of scientific and technological advancements. Without any doubt, the lion’s share of this aid goes towards beefing up defense and military resources. For example, Israel’s Iron Dome technology, aimed at intercepting incoming missiles, comes with an exceedingly high price tag. The position of Israel on this list sheds light on the subject and nature of USAID. It is clear that the abundance of aid towards Israel serves as a means of protecting US interests in the Middle East and against increasingly aggressive posturing from Russia and Iran.

2. Afghanistan ($2.327 Billion)

Not surprisingly, Afghanistan has come in second on this list. After years of war attempting to stem the tide of terrorism in the region, the U.S. has directed foreign aid to the region to fund both the Afghan military as well as for the purposes of General Chrystal’s Counterinsurgency (COIN) ideology. After funding the Afghan military and police, the remaining aid is funneled towards aspects of soft power. Through building schools and hospitals, the United States hopes to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, which in turn, is hoped to be effective in preventing further insurgency.

3. Pakistan ($2.102 Billion)

Aid channeled towards Pakistan represents a unique form of Foreign Aid. It is no secret that Pakistan is one of the most potentially volatile regions on the planet. With a seemingly never ending dispute with India and rising Islamic extremism, the prospect of instability is one that must be avoided at all costs. Unlike Afghanistan, Pakistan has nuclear weapons; the prospect of these falling into the hands of the wrong people is something the global community cannot allow. With this understanding the brunt of USAID to Pakistan has gone towards building up a governmental infrastructure suited to international cooperation. With the ever-present possibility of corruption, foreign aid is the proverbial “carrot”, as opposed to the “stick” levied against Afghanistan. After sustained efforts to battle extremism, it is entirely against US foreign interests for the Taliban to gain a political foothold in Pakistan. Through creating an infrastructure not suitable to their political ideology, foreign aid dollars can go much further than they would battling symptoms of terrorism and extremism.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: Washington Post, USAID, ABC News
Photo: The National

photojournalists
American directors Mo Scarpelli and Alexandria Bombach are working on a new documentary about photojournalism in Afghanistan called Frame by Frame. The directors joined Afghan war photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner, Massoud Hossaini, in his home country to document the rise of journalism in a place where taking a photo was once a crime.

A new culture of Afghan reporters and photojournalists has been growing ever since the ban on photography was overturned just over a decade ago. The documentary features the stories of four photographers, including Farzana Wahidy, whose work is uncommon for her gender in Afghanistan.

These four photojournalists and more have made great strides in the documentation of life in Afghanistan, the war, and the issues that are important to them. The necessity of journalism from the source is “to build democracy and independence, to check and limit those in power, to drive social and political change,” according to filmmaker Mo Scarpelli.

Local reporters have access to places and people which rarely welcome international reporters. Freedom of the press has improved since the people have gained the right to take photos and share the realities of day-to-day life with the world, but some are concerned about the future of such freedoms. With international forces leaving the country over the next year, international press will also be exiting. Defense, governance, and journalism will all be exclusively in the hands of the Afghan people, who face the threat of the Taliban reverting the country back to the time when snapping a photo was a crime.

The project was started in 2012, which was funded completely by the filmmakers themselves, one of whom drained her bank account entirely and even sold her car to make it all the way to Afghanistan. Frame by Frame is unfinished as of now, and the directors are relying on donations through Kickstarter to raise the funds needed to send them back to Afghanistan to fill-out footage for the film. Backers who want to see the film to completion have until August 28th to make a a pledge.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: Humanosphere, Kickstarter, Frame by Frame
Photo: Boston