AFGHANISTAN 2 2014 and beyond

AFGHANISTAN 2 2014 and beyond
Wolfgang Taucher - Mathias Vogl - Peter Webinger (eds.)
2014 and beyond
Wolfgang Taucher - Mathias Vogl - Peter Webinger (eds.)
2014 and beyond
Wolfgang Taucher
Mathias Vogl
Peter Webinger
Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior
Herrengasse 7 / 1014 Vienna / Austria
[email protected]
Copy Editors
Alexander Schahbasi
Thomas Schrott
Doris Petz
Martina Schrott
Gerald Dreveny
Sarah Kratschmayr
Martin Angel
Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior
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ISBN 978-3-9503643-1-6
© 2014 Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior
Foreword | Wolfgang Taucher, Mathias Vogl, Peter Webinger..................................... 6
Vanda Felbab-Brown
Outlook on Security......................................................................................................... 8
William Byrd
Dina Latek
Martin Hofman & David Reichel
Michael Izady
With Afghanistan in the global limelight and ongoing developments shaping
the country’s future for years to come, understanding Afghanistan seems
more important than ever. Due to the substantial number of refugees fleeing
the country, the Country of Origin Information Unit of the Austrian Federal
Office for Immigration and Asylum has continuously focused on the region
during the previous years. For the same reason the European Asylum Support
Office (EASO) dedicated its very first Country Reports („Insugent strategies intimidation and targeted violence against Afghans“ and „Taliban Strategies
- Recruitment“) to Afghanistan as well. Based on our in-house analysis, we
now draw upon the expertise of renowned international experts to compile
this anthology and we are very grateful for their knowledgeable contributions.
Vanda Felbab-Brown, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in
Washington and author of “Aspiration and Ambivalence: Strategies and
Realities of Counterinsurgency and State-building in Afghanistan”, previews
security and political developments in Afghanistan in 2014 and after. William
A. Byrd, a Senior Expert at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) who
previously served as the World Bank’s country manager for Afghanistan in
Kabul, analyzes the challenges and possible international implications of
Afghanistan’s economy during transition. Dina Latek, an Afghanistan analyst
at the Country of Origin Information Unit of the Federal Office for Immigration
and Asylum takes a closer look at the situation of women in the country. An
analysis of migration flows from Afghanistan to Europe is provided by Martin
Hofmann and David Reichel, both researchers at the International Centre for
Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) in Vienna. Michael Izady kindly granted
us permission to use his maps - hosted by the Gulf/2000 Project at Columbia
University - on ethnic groups, religious composition, languages and tribes in
We hope that the second volume of our Regiones et Res Publicae series
provides policy makers and analysts with a substantial outlook on potential
developments in Afghanistan – for 2014 and beyond.
Wolfgang Taucher Mathias Vogl
Peter Webinger
Director of the Federal Office
for Immigration and Asylum Director-General for Legal Affairs
Deputy Director-General
for Legal Affairs
Austrian Federal Ministry
of the Interior
Austrian Federal Ministry
of the interior
Austrian Federal Ministry
of the interior
Outlook on Security
Security and Political Developments in
Afghanistan in 2014 and After:
Endgame or New Game
Vanda Felbab-Brown
Security and Political Developments in Afghanistan in 2014 and After:
Endgame or New Game?
The great uncertainties about the security and political transitions underway
in Afghanistan and the country’s economic outlook are likely to continue
generating pervasive ambivalence in Washington, Kabul, and other capitals
over how to manage the U.S. and ISAF withdrawals and their after-effects.
Many Afghans fear that a civil war is coming after 2014; and outmigration
and capital flight are intensifying. The security, political, and economic
developments in 2014 and 2015 will be critically influenced by three factors:
The first key determinant is whether Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)
are capable of functioning at least at the level of their 2013 performance while
improving “tail”(e.g., logistical and specialty enablers) support and reducing
casualty levels. The second factor is whether Afghanistan signs the Bilateral
Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, enabling a continued
presence in Afghanistan of a small contingent of U.S. forces after 2014
and allowing other coalition countries to make similar commitments. The
posture and mission of the U.S. and coalition deployments and international
financial support for Afghanistan will also be of critical importance. Third,
Afghan presidential elections in 2014 will deeply influence the political,
security, and economic developments in Afghanistan for years to come.
All three of these factors will also profoundly effect any future negotiations
between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Moreover, Afghanistan’s
impending economic downturn will have both immediate and medium-term
repercussions for Afghanistan’s stability. Although a detailed discussion
of external influences from neighboring countries and regional powers on
Afghanistan’s security and stability is not within the remit of this paper, it
nonetheless needs to be recognized that Afghanistan’s regional environment
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will critically intensify or reduce internal conflicts within Afghanistan, helping
to stabilize the country or fuel conflict dynamics.
The State of Afghan National Security Forces, the State of the Taliban, and
the Return of the Warlords
The ANSF: Staying Together and Fighting On?
During 2013, the security situation in Afghanistan was dominated
by the continuing withdrawal of Western forces, the handover of security
responsibility to the ANSF, and the Taliban’s campaign to discredit the ANSF.
Although the Taliban failed in this main objective and the ANSF performed
well tactically, Afghan forces are still plagued by many deep-seated problems,
particularly on the “tail” support side.
Dramatically altering the security landscape, the withdrawal of U.S. and
NATO forces proceeds at a speedy pace. While in 2012, there were 150,000
ISAF troops in Afghanistan, by November 2013, this number declined to
approximately half, about 50,000 of them Americans. By February 2014,
U.S. forces are expected to be reduced to 33,000, with full withdrawal
completed later in the year - unless a BSA is signed enabling a continuing
presence of U.S. forces. By the end of 2013, over 90% of 800 ISAF bases
had been closed, with some handed over to the ANSF and others dismantled
because the ANSF lacks the capacity to maintain all of them. As remaining
Western forces redeploy toward Kabul, entire Afghan provinces lack a
Western presence. Meanwhile, the ISAF is losing intelligence-gathering
capacity and an in-depth picture of broader political-security developments
across the country.
A crucial milestone was passed in June 2013 when the ANSF took over
lead responsibility for security throughout Afghanistan. Despite an intense
military campaign by the Taliban, the ANSF did not cede any territory. Showing
increasing initiative, the ANSF performed well in tactical operations and
exhibited improved planning and execution. Nonetheless, facing an intense
Taliban campaign between April and October - during which the insurgents
mounted 6,604 attacks in 30 of Afghanistan‘s 34 provinces including 50
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suicide bombings, 1,704 shootings and shellings, 1,186 bombings, and
920 ambushes - the ANSF suffered intense casualties.1 To safeguard
morale, the Afghan military did not disclose the casualty rates for the Afghan
army. The Afghan Interior Ministry revealed that 2,052 members of both the
Afghan National and Local Police were killed and more than 5,000 wounded
during the 2013 fighting season, compared with a combined total of 2,970
police and soldiers killed in 2012.2 Such casualty rates will be difficult for
the Afghan forces to sustain on a prolonged basis.
High ANSF casualty levels are partially caused by poor medical evacuation
capacities. Afghan air assets are nascent, and most medevac takes place
by land. Overall, the non-combat support - the tail side of ANSF capacities
- continues to suffer significant deficiencies. A wicked combination of U.S.
legalism, Soviet-style bureaucracy, and Afghan tribal rivalries logistics and
maintenance are deeply dysfunctional and pervaded by corruption and
clientelism. Intelligence and other specialty enablers continue to suffer from
a myriad of problems, constituting a big hole in transition plans. The Afghan
government does not have the capacity to easily redress these serious
and potentially debilitating deficiencies that could critically undermine
the morale and fighting capacities of the ANSF. Without external advice
and oversight after 2014, many of the deleterious conditions will intensify,
straining the fighting capacity of ANSF.
Not just the logistics component of the ANSF but the forces overall
are fissured along ethnic and patronage lines. Whether the forces will
avoid shattering after 2014 is in part a function of maintaining payments
to Afghan soldiers and units, and hence of the levels of corruption and
ethnic divisions within ANSF. The financing is fully dependent on foreign
aid -- currently US$7 billion per year but expected to fall to somewhere
between $2billion to $4 billion a year after 2014, with a planned reduction
of ANSF size from the present 352,000 to 228,500 in 2015. How these
reductions take place will determine to an important extent whether the
ANSF can absorb them without disastrous consequences for their fighting
capacities. To the extent that the reductions are not commensurate with
the level of fighting on the battlefield and are driven by inflexible timelines
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or the collapse of support for Afghanistan stabilization in the United States
and international community - because of the lack of a Bilateral Security
Agreement or the Afghan presidential elections having gone disastrously
wrong - cuts in external funding can set off the disintegration of ANSF. And
it is questionable whether the Afghan government could find alternative
funding, such as from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russia,
or India.
The Taliban: How Long Can They Keep It Up?
The capabilities of the Taliban and associated insurgent groups, such
as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami, are hardly limitless. The Taliban
also struggles with logistics, particularly as disrupting the group’s supply
chains has been a key ISAF focus. The Taliban’s fundraising and supply
problems are likely to be further augmented as external support is diluted
and redirected to other jihad conflicts, such as in Syria, Iraq, and Libya.
Although its operations attract great media and public attention, threaten
human security, and shake the confidence of the Afghan people, the
Taliban’s casualty levels have been high. During 2013, the group treated
its foot soldiers as cannon fodder, a policy that could generate significant
recruitment problems in the future, particularly if the departure of Western
troops in 2014 weakens the group’s capacity to mobilize on the basis
of fighting an infidel occupation. Potential recruits may exhibit greater
reluctance to fight a blatant civil war even though the Taliban will cloak its
continuing violent campaign as jihad against an apostate government.
The insurgency has maintained an impressive capacity to replace
eliminated mid-level commanders and “shadow governors,” but nonetheless
its operational strains are significant. Even so, an ANSF left essentially on
its own after 2014 may lose much of the capacity to target and disrupt the
Taliban’s middle leadership.
With all the challenges the Taliban and its associated insurgents face,
none of them is close to being defeated. The Taliban is still deeply entrenched
in Afghanistan and its capacity to persevere with an intense insurgency is
undiminished. The group has good reason to believe that the departure of
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Western forces will considerably weaken the ANSF, and its military position
will improve significantly.
The Warlords and Militias: Back Again
Although the upcoming 2014 presidential elections have focused
Afghan political energies on Kabul, prominent former warlords and current
powerbrokers, anxious to participate in the post-2014 future, have been
actively attempting to refurbish and consolidate their local power bases.
Powerful government officials and out-of-government powerbrokers such
as Ismail Khan, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Sher Mohammad Akhundzada,
Matiullah Khan, and Abdul Razziq (some of whom are running for
presidential or vice-presidential positions in the elections) have sought to
oust local officials and replace them with their own loyalists, sometimes
by instigating local insecurity. And those local powerbrokers not in charge
of either Afghan National Police (ANP) or Afghan Local Police (ALP) units
have been attempting to appropriate local ALP units or resurrect their own
militias, ideally having them anointed as the ALP.
The momentum of spontaneous anti-Taliban uprisings in 2011 and 2012,
such as in the Andar District of Ghazni Province and in Logar Province,
seems to have fizzled out. Along with some of the rural Afghan Local Police
units and even regular police units, many of these anti-Taliban forces will be
up for grabs by powerbrokers. Some ALP units will also likely disintegrate
in the face of inadequate logistics and funding. Others, such as those
ALP units recruited from the Taliban or Hezbi-Islami, may defect back to
the insurgencies. Others may turn to predation on local communities and
crime. Much will depend on how a post-2014 Ministry of Interior and local
government officials can maintain supplies for and control over these antiTaliban forces and actors, who are only loosely anchored into the formal
state security apparatus.
Maintaining such control and established funding, recruitment,
monitoring, and other operational procedures will in fact be a massive
challenge for all of Afghan security and even civilian institutions - at least in
the near term. In the only weakly institutionalized and intensely patronage12
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based system, entire levels of ministries and other institutions will likely
face massive personnel turnover and purges after the elections. The
extent to which new appointees persist with procedures the international
community has sought to inculcate, or instead intensify clientelistic, corrupt,
and discriminatory processes, remains to be seen, but will strongly influence
both security and politics in Afghanistan. For months after the formation of a
new government, contestation over positions, networks, and other spoils will
consume much political energy, potentially spilling into actual violence. The
new government will face tough dilemmas in balancing what powerbrokers
to keep in the tent (even though their influence can hamper the functioning
of the government) and which established powerbrokers to fire from key
ministerial positions with the attendant risks of their becoming spoilers.
Such local contestations and turf wars are likely to persist well into 2015
and beyond, even if local powerbrokers may seek to label the instability as
Taliban-instigated. As has been its modus operandi and skill, the Taliban will
seek to insert itself into such local contestations. Politics in Afghanistan thus
has been increasingly, though informally devolving to the local level. These
re-empowered and reenergized powerbrokers will pose a major challenge
for the new Afghan government, undermining its governance capacity and
potentially intensifying insecurity.
Overall, both as a result of the Taliban’s activity and non-Taliban
contestation and infighting, the security and political picture well into 2015
is likely to be a murky environment of fluid and shifting alliances, local
accommodations among a variety of actors including the Taliban (that
may nonetheless be very short-lived), and unreliable deals, with turf wars
potentially spilling into actual criminal, ethnic, and political violence. The
Taliban will seek to make 2015 bloody so as to crack the ANSF. Amidst
this great uncertainty and multiple forms of insecurity, short-term profit and
power maximization objectives and hedging are likely to remain pervasive.
But if in 2016 the Afghan government and its security forces have not
buckled, the insecurity may start diminishing, and Afghan powerbrokers as
well as ordinary citizens may adopt longer-term horizons and more stable
deals, and even the Taliban’s calculus may change.
Outlook on Security
Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement and the Level and Nature of
International Support after 2014
The morale and calculations of the Taliban, the ANSF, the Afghan
government and power elites, and the Afghan people will be critically
influenced by whether the United States and Afghanistan sign the BSA and
whether some U.S. and NATO forces remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
Other ISAF countries have indicated that in the absence of a BSA and U.S.
presence, they would not maintain their forces in Afghanistan after 2014.
Negotiations over the BSA dominated U.S.-Afghan diplomatic relations
in 2013 and will continue to do so in 2014 until the BSA is either signed
or Washington has lost patience and indeed adopts the so-called zero
option, pulling the plug on Afghan stabilization. U.S. diplomats had hoped
to conclude negotiations by October, but that timeline and subsequent
ones have been repeatedly missed. Even though about 80% of the deal
had been worked out, with the Afghan side mostly getting the language
it wanted, three issues in particular confounded the negotiations.3 First,
Afghan negotiators demanded U.S. guarantees against Pakistan’s military
interference in Afghanistan - potentially obligating the U.S. to attack
Pakistan - which Washington has categorically refused. Second, Afghan
negotiators sought to secure firm, specific, and multi-year financial aid
commitments from the U.S., a request that violates the U.S. Constitution
because the Congress allocates foreign aid on a yearly basis. Third, the U.S.
appears to have compromised, though exactly how is not yet clear, on its
key demand that U.S. counterterrorism units targeting al-Qaeda (not the
Taliban) continue to operate independently after 2014. Afghan President
Hamid Karzai has sought to channel these counterterrorism operations
through the ANSF, with the U.S. providing intelligence only. A nonnegotiable
U.S. requirement - and one of the greatest outstanding disagreements pertains to the legal immunity of U.S. soldiers. The Afghans have sought to
eliminate it while the U.S. categorically refuses to permit any of its soldiers
to remain in Afghanistan in the absence of immunity guarantees.
In late November 2013, when the U.S. believed all disagreements
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had been ironed out, a loya jirga (grand council) of 3,000 Afghan public
representatives, government officials, and tribal elders selected by President
Karzai endorsed the BSA. Yet to the consternation of both U.S. diplomats
and Afghan politicians and civil society, and to the applause of the Taliban,
President Karzai still refused to sign the BSA, insisting that only the next
Afghan administration to be elected in April 2014 should sign the deal. He
also added new conditions for the U.S. to satisfy first – the end to all, including
counterterrorist, air raids and house searches, substantial headway on
peace negotiations with the Taliban, which he had unsuccessfully tried to
initiate secretly on his own, and a U.S. guarantee that it would not “meddle”
in Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential elections. By this last demand, Karzai of
course means that the United States and the international community not
meddle with any of his meddling with the elections.
The difficulties in concluding the BSA reflect the steady deterioration
since 2009 of the relationship between the Obama administration and
Karzai, given their vastly divergent strategic viewpoints. Karzai wants the
U.S. to bring far greater pressure on Islamabad to stop providing a safehaven
in Pakistan for Afghan Taliban leadership and soldiers. Karzai fails to
recognize that the resilience of the Afghan insurgency is also a function of
the misgovernance, corruption, criminality, and abuse perpetrated by his
government and associated local or regional powerbrokers.
President Karzai’s foreign policy of brinkmanship - constantly generating
crises, and visibly shopping for new friends in Russia, China, Iran, and India
to use as leverage against the U.S. and NATO - has depleted the fragile
support left in the U.S. for the Afghanistan effort. Yet Karzai is wedded to
the strategic belief that Washington cannot walk away because America
requires a platform for pursuing a “New Great Game” in Central Asia against
China and Russia. But the White House seems to have identified China and
East Asia, not Central Asia, as its strategic priority despite being mired in
the Middle East. Thus, influential members of the Obama administration
increasingly regard Afghanistan as an unwise liability, and the U.S. president
has repeatedly talked of “winding down” the war in Afghanistan, or more
precisely U.S. participation in it.
Outlook on Security
The Obama administration has repeatedly stressed that because of
planning requirements for any post-2014 U.S. military deployment, it cannot
wait to sign the BSA only after the 2014 presidential elections in Afghanistan
(currently slated to take place in April) and until a new government is
formed.4 Meanwhile, a number of U.S. and NATO officials have expressed
skepticism that President Karzai would sign the BSA before that, and the
Afghan president himself has stated that the decision whether to sign or not
would be made by his successor.
And yet waiting for the successor to sign will likely involve waiting
considerably beyond April 2014. Even if the elections are not delayed for
security or weather reasons, the first round is unlikely to produce a winner
with over 50% of the vote. Claims of fraud, demands for recount, and political
bargaining may delay the second round for several weeks or months. A similar
contestation of the results, political bargaining, and delays could easily
take place after the second round of the elections. Even once the winner is
determined, he may require weeks to form a government. Thus, it is not at
all inconceivable that a new Afghan president ready to sign the BSA might
not be available until October or November 2014, and it is questionable
whether either the United States or NATO partners will be willing to wait that
long. A United Nations extension of the current ISAF mandate may buy time
and delay the deadline for total U.S. and ISAF withdrawal for a few months
until 2015, but it is not clear that either Washington or Kabul is ready to
accept such an interim measure or that U.N. Security Council countries such
as Russia and China would consent to such a temporary deal without an
explicit agreement from the Afghan government.
Even if the BSA is ultimately signed, it remains unclear how many U.S.
and ISAF soldiers would remain in Afghanistan after 2014. President Obama
has repeatedly stated that any post-2014 U.S. mission would be confined
to counterterrorism operations (potentially targeting al Qaeda and the
Haqqani network only) and limited ANSF training and advisory assistance.
Nonetheless, these two missions can take on a variety of configurations,
and their precise shape will be primarily determined by troop levels. While
former ISAF commanders and Afghanistan experts have called for between
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15,000 and 20,000 NATO soldiers, increasingly it appears that 10,000 may
be the maximum, with a U.S. deployment as small as 3,000-8,000 troops.
Such a small force posture greatly limits potential missions, particularly if
force protection requirements and anti-al-Qaeda units consume the bulk of
the deployment. It thus no longer appears feasible for the ISAF, as previously
planned, to continue to provide the ANSF with capabilities after 2014 that
they lack now. Any post-2014 ISAF engagement with the ANSF may be
limited to corps-level and ministry advising, oversight of external financing,
and Afghan special operations forces support. The security environment
that the ANSF will face in 2014 and 2015 will thus be increasingly difficult.
Moreover, to the extent that the dominant U.S. objective of retaining a
U.S. military force in Afghanistan is counterterrorism - defined primarily as
a capacity and bases for striking terrorist targets in Pakistan or reaching
into Pakistan in case of a major security meltdown which threatened the
safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons -, Afghanistan will not get much out
of such an arrangement. Although the deal might preserve critical financial
flows to Afghanistan, it would not deliver a direct military advantage to the
government. At the same time, it would continue to antagonize Pakistan
and worsen the already difficult Afghanistan-Pakistan relations. U.S.
counterterrorism forces and bases would likely come under attack and
may become either sitting ducks or be drawn again into the Afghan internal
insurgency struggles. Afghanistan might not thus welcome such a deal, and
Washington might not be able to sustain it.
The 2014 Presidential and Provincial Council Elections: Setting off
Infighting or a Platform for Legitimacy Renewal?
Along with ISAF’s departure, the 2014 presidential elections will be a
defining historical moment for the country. The elections could become
a platform for the renewal of a political dispensation that has become
increasingly illegitimate as a result of the Afghan government’s failings:
incompetence, corruption, nepotism, criminality, and power abuse.
Because President Karzai is constitutionally barred from running again, the
elections will usher in not only a new government, but - in the country’s
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highly centralized, personality-based patronage system - also potentially a
major transfer of power. Layers of institutions and scores of appointments
could be changed by the new leadership, affecting access to political and
economic resources for ethnic groups, tribes, and powerbrokers’ networks.
The political energies of 2013 and early 2014 have been consumed by
preparations for the elections, with a frenzy of meetings among Afghan
politicians and political networks and a preoccupation with bargaining.
Many Afghan politicians believe that highly contested elections would be
disastrous for stability, potentially provoking violence and a prolonged
political crisis. They thus have gravitated toward finding a consensus
candidate or candidates, yet failed to agree on any before the October
2013 registration deadline.5 With Afghan political parties remaining weak,
and despite some impressive civil society activism, presidential hopefuls
will have to rely on their personal electoral vehicles and bargaining by
powerbrokers. Ultimately, many politicians registered for the contest just to
stay in the bargaining game over spoils and dispensations.
Despite its potential to resurrect the legitimacy of the Afghan political
system, there are multiple ways in which the elections could trigger extensive
violence: Widespread fraud could be alleged; losers could refuse to accept
the results; the Taliban could escalate attacks, and ethnic Pashtuns could
become disenfranchised due to insecurity.
The Taliban has rejected participating in, and the legitimacy of, the
upcoming 2014 presidential and provincial council elections in Afghanistan,
and has attacked voter registration workers. While the group is not fielding
candidates, it has engaged some presidential contenders in discussions.
The Taliban’s counterpart Hezbi-Islami already is a significant political force
within Afghanistan’s official and formal political sphere and will be engaged
in political bargaining related to the elections. Since the Pashtun areas of
southern and eastern Afghanistan are the most violently contested and the
Taliban influence there is the greatest, the government’s inability to protect
potential voters from Taliban attacks and reprisals and a general sense
of insecurity could deter the overwhelmingly Pashtun population in those
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regions from participating in the elections.
Fighting by losers in the elections - such as aggrieved Pashtun
communities feeling disfranchised as a result of inadequate security at
the polls or ethnic minorities losing in ethnically mixed provinces - but also
by individual powerbrokers could break out. A postponement of elections
on technical, weather, or security grounds (or even outright suspension of
voting and extension of Karzai’s rule) could also spark fighting. Interethnic
violence or losers’ rebellions, particularly after elections, could generate
potentially untenable stress on the ANSF, already mostly left on its own
to provide security for the elections and struggling with ethnic and patronbased fragmentation. Extensive fraud, widespread fighting, or prolonged
political paralysis (as Afghan politicians bargaining over a political resolution
come to an inconclusive result), or a refusal by Karzai to surrender power,
could eviscerate any remaining support in ISAF countries for continuing
assistance to Afghanistan.
One of the critical questions that the international community, such as
ISAF countries, will need to determine and coordinate sufficiently in advance
is whether they will become involved in any way with the political bargaining
surrounding the presidential elections. The rapture of relations between the
Afghan government and the United States as a result of the failed attempt
by Richard Holbrooke to prevent the reelection of Hamid Karzai in 2009 is a
potent deterrent against any such involvement. Yet foreign influence may well
be crucial in discouraging losers from taking to the streets and cocking their
weapons, or for fostering consensus building. It is also likely that non-ISAF
countries, such as Iran, but potentially also Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia,
or Russia, will not abstain from some form of involvement in the elections,
such as donations and advice, to their favored candidates. Regardless of
whether ISAF countries decide to stay completely out or get involved, early
coordination among them could enhance the effectiveness of their policies.
The international community’s involvement or noninvolvement in the postvote bargaining will cast a long shadow on its relationship with Afghanistan
much after 2014.
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Negotiations with the Taliban: A Deal Nowhere in Sight
Long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan will require reconciliation
and reintegration of groups and communities alienated from the country’s
political dispensation. Negotiations with the Taliban will thus need to
produce a settlement acceptable not just to the insurgents and the
Afghan government, but also to the country’s ethnic minorities. Prominent
Afghan northern politicians have stated that a deal that cedes too much
territory and power to the Taliban would be unacceptable to them and a
reason for war.6 For such a settlement to be truly stable, it will also require
reconciliation between the Afghan people, such as women’s groups, and the
Afghan government and reduction in the impunity, abuse, and corruption
the Afghan government and associated powerbrokers have been able to get
away with over the past decade. Close-to-the-vest bargaining among Afghan
powerbrokers and the Taliban may produce a deal, but it is questionable
whether it can produce stability.
Nonetheless, even such a problematic narrow deal between the Afghan
government and the Taliban remains elusive. Stalled since March 2012
(when the Taliban withdrew from efforts to spur talks, claiming the U.S.
refusal to release key Taliban leaders from Guantánamo violated good faith),
negotiations to end fighting experienced a breakthrough in June 2013. After
months of efforts by diplomats, non-governmental organizations (NGOs),
and third-party go-betweens from various countries, the Taliban, to much
fanfare, opened an office in Doha, Qatar. However, in violation of what the
U.S. understood to be the Taliban’s agreement, the latter exhibited its 1990s
flag and other insignia at the office, televising the scene live worldwide, and
sending shockwaves throughout Afghanistan. Civil society, women’s groups,
ethnic minorities, and even many ordinary Afghans believed that the West
was about to sell them out for a fig leaf to cover the ISAF’s departure.
President Karzai felt threatened by the legitimacy seemingly accorded to
the insurgents and the direct channels to the international community
the Doha office provided them. Thinking he had secured guarantees from
Washington to prevent the Taliban from staging such a public relations
coup, and believing that his government would be the Taliban’s principal
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interlocutor, Karzai charged betrayal by Washington and abruptly withdrew
from the negotiations.
Ever more distrustful, Karzai subsequently sought to engage the Taliban
and Pakistan directly, bypassing the U.S. The Afghan government managed
to persuade the government of recently elected Pakistani Prime Minister
Nawaz Sharif to release one of the Taliban’s key leaders, Mullah Abdul Ghani
Baradar and some 20 top Taliban operatives from house arrest in Pakistan.
However, that seeming diplomatic démarche ultimately did not provide the
Afghan government with access to Baradar, on whom it pins hopes of a
negotiated deal. Frustrated, Kabul sought to deliver on its years-old threat
to cultivate proxies and provide safe-havens to anti-Pakistani militants in
Afghanistan as leverage against Pakistan in hopes of encouraging Islamabad
to hand over Afghan Taliban leaders. However, the Pakistan Taliban leader
whom Afghan intelligence picked for this ploy, Latif Mehsud, was seen as
highly dangerous by Washington because he was implicated in the failed
2010 car bomb attempt in New York City’s Times Square. When U.S. Special
Operations Forces snatched Mehsud from an Afghan intelligence service
convoy, another major crisis in the U.S.-Afghan relationship erupted.
For its part, the Taliban had long shown no willingness to engage with
the Afghan government, disparaging the Karzai administration as abusive,
illegitimate, and a U.S. puppet. Aside from the Doha media coup, it focused
its negotiating energies on the United States, demanding changes to the
Afghan Constitution, power-sharing in the national government until new
elections can be held, and the withdrawal of all foreign troops. Nonetheless,
during the fall and winter 2013, the Taliban apparently engaged directly with
President Karzai in secret negotiations, held in such strict confidence that
even the Afghan High Peace Council (a body officially designated to negotiate
with the Taliban) did not know about them.7 Karzai’s unwillingness to sign
the BSA and his insistence on releasing dangerous Taliban and Haqqani
fighters and terrorists from the Bagram prison, despite American pressure
and fury and despite previous agreements with the United States, may have
been partially motivated by his desire to appease the Taliban during those
furtive talks. Nonetheless, by early 2014, the negotiations seemed to fall
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The collapse of Karzai’s negotiating gambit is not surprising. With the
departure (or even just a radical decrease in the presence) of Western
forces, the Taliban has every reason to believe that time is on its side. Even
if it cannot defeat the ANSF, it will be in a stronger position on the battlefield
and hence at the negotiating table with far fewer or no ISAF soldiers in
Afghanistan. Just like the Doha office, its secret talks with Karzai (which the
group in fact denied took place) are most likely a ploy to drag out time as
well as obtain international recognition. It is also conceivable that waving the
prospect of a negotiated deal in front of Karzai was the Taliban’s masterful
ploy to derail the BSA.
Serious negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government
are most likely to occur if two conditions are met. One, the Taliban becomes
persuaded that the ANSF can stand on its own and would not collapse under
its further onslaught, despite a radically diminished Western presence.
And two, the Afghan government enjoys far greater legitimacy than the
current one - as a result of successful 2014 presidential and provincial
council elections. Conversely, elections marred by violence and fraud will
strengthen the Taliban’s hand both on the battlefield and in negotiations.
These conditions also imply that the Taliban will unlikely enter into serious
negotiations any time soon, at least not before late-2015 or even 2016.
In any case, such negotiations are likely to drag for years, while fighting
simultaneously goes on. Meanwhile, 2014 and 2015 have a high chance
of being very bloody years in Afghanistan as the Taliban tests the mettle
of ANSF. Some sustained U.S. and Western presence in Afghanistan would
critically stiffen ANSF’s spine, as well as increase confidence in sustained
U.S. funding and other assistance. Moreover, should a negotiated deal be
struck, both sides, and particularly the Taliban, may have strong incentives
to violate it; thus the presence of an impartial enforcer, such as a sufficiently
robust U.N. force, would be desirable. Nonetheless, it is very unlikely that
the international community will have an appetite for fielding such a force,
conceiving of the deal instead a justification for further reductions in its
involvement in Afghanistan. Thus, enforcement of any deal will most likely
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have to depend on the capacity of ANSF.
Economic Downturn and Instability
The political and security transition uncertainties have already had
a pronounced effect on Afghanistan’s fragile economy. While general
economic woes and a major shrinkage of Afghan gross domestic product
(GDP) after 2014 have been anticipated, the 2013 economic performance
turned out worse than expected. According to the World Bank, Afghan
economic growth will contract by over 10% and is expected to reach only
3.1% in 2013 and 3.5% in 2014, down from 14.4% in 2012.8 Moreover, much
of Afghanistan’s economic growth has been tied to international aid and
security spending. The economic downturn was also caused by the inability
of the government to improve tax and customs collection, reduce massive
corruption and diversions of both aid and public finance, and prevent capital
flight. President Karzai’s promise at a July 2012 donors’ conference in Tokyo
to increase tax revenues from 5% to 15% remains unkept.
Equally unfulfilled was the promise that the country‘s mineral wealth
would generate revenue to wean Afghanistan off dependence on foreign
aid and on illegal opium poppy for income generation, economic growth,
and human development. A key mining law has been on hold for over a year.
Although Chinese investors bought a number of mining licenses, including
most prominently the Aynak Copper Mine concession for $3 billion, no
production has started or is likely to start soon. Much to the frustration of the
Afghan government and the international community, Chinese officials cite
the lack of security, debilitating corruption, and lawlessness as reasons for
delaying the actual mining.9 A lesser, but symbolically important oil project
in northern Afghanistan is also suspended. Legal agricultural production
declined in 2013, even as the opium poppy industry continues to thrive.
Expected to expand in 2014 and 2015 as its structural drivers remain
unaddressed, opium poppy cultivation continues to provide an economic
lifeline for large segments of the population and underpins much of the
country’s economic growth.
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Other uncertainties surround the post-2014 economic aid long promised
to Afghanistan. Some members of the U.S. Congress have argued that
such aid hinges on whether a BSA is signed or not. Already in early 2014,
the U.S. Congress allocated just $1.1 billion in U.S. civilian assistance to
Afghanistan, only 50% of what the Obama administration has originally
sought. The difficult security environment also means that the U.S. Agency
for International Development (USAID) will be increasingly unable to monitor
its economic projects in Afghanistan. Despite the hopes and promises of an
economic dividend following ISAF force reduction after 2014, Afghanistan’s
economic outlook remains challenging.
The causal relationship between instability and economic downturn, of
course, also runs the other way. The lack of job opportunities delegitimizes
the Afghan government and increases prospects for instability. With half
of Afghanistan population under thirty, the risks of instability are further
augmented. Also, as a consequence of the departure of Western forces and
likely many Western NGOs, tens of thousands of jobs employing the Afghan
young as translators, cooks, drivers, cultural advisors, and local liaisons, will
evaporate. Many of Afghanistan’s now educated and far more urban youth
will struggle to find employment. The still primarily rural Taliban may hold
little appeal for them, but it is conceivable that other Islamist movements,
perhaps akin to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, will eventually come to vie for
their allegiance or that they will simply come to oppose the political system
and the established powerbrokers through strikes and protests. Educated,
pro-Western, and impressive young Afghan civil society members located
primarily in Kabul exhibited great dynamism during 2013 and they too
will seek to mobilize the dissatisfied urban youth. To the extent that the
Westernized reformers manage to harness the energy of the alienated young
Afghans, they might acquire great influence and be able to launch crucial
reforms to stabilize the country. But such an outcome is hardly guaranteed
as traditional powerbrokers and their sons continue to dominate Afghan
politics, and, particularly, if Western support for Afghanistan’s civil society
after 2014 wanes as a result of diverted attention or donor exhaustion and
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The Inescapable Regional Geopolitics
The remit of this paper is to focus on Afghanistan’s internal security and
political dynamics in 2014 and early post-2014 future. They are, of course,
inextricably linked to the regional security environment; and Afghanistan’s
neighbors and regional powers greatly influence the country’s internal
dynamics in all key realms, including the economic sphere. This paper
will make only a few framing observations, without being able to provide
extensive nuance and details on the most recent developments.
Visions of a New Silk Road notwithstanding, Afghanistan’s external
environment is hardly auspicious. Although all of Afghanistan’s neighbors,
including arguably Pakistan, do not wish to see Afghanistan disintegrate into
a civil war and do not enjoy the prospect of continuing insecurity, a regional
framework for Afghanistan’s security and neutrality remains elusive.
Despite pressure from the United States and the West, Pakistan
continues to sponsor – and hold on a leash – various of the insurgent
factions, including the Taliban and the Haqqanis. The greater the prospect
for instability after 2014, the more reluctant will Pakistan be to relinquish
whatever levers on the Afghan insurgents it has. More immediately, should
a deal between the Pakistani government and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
(TTP) be struck in early 2014 and a discussed offensive by the Pakistani
military into North Waziristan again not take place, the Pakistani military
may be highly disinclined to tighten the border between Afghanistan and
Pakistan during the Afghan presidential elections. The military might be
wary of alienating the TTP and jeopardizing a deal, even though Afghan and
Pakistani militant violence would undermine the conduct and legitimacy of
the elections. Despite recent rapprochement overtures from Islamabad,
Pakistan still views India as its principal enemy and views Afghanistan
through the lens of its competition with India, fearing a pro-India government
in power in Kabul.
India for its part fears the return of the Taliban or a Taliban capacity
to sponsor anti-India attacks and provide safe-havens to salafi groups
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in Afghanistan. Unpersuaded about Afghanistan’s post-2014 stability,
it resents that the United States, so as not to provoke Pakistan, has
assiduously tried to restrain India’s security and intelligence activities in
Afghanistan and modulate India’s engagement in the country.10 Russia, Iran,
and China share many of India’s security objectives and concerns about
a post-2014 Afghanistan, though their involvement varies. Also anxious
about the security of its economic investments in Afghanistan, China has
provided limited economic assistance, refusing to become directly militarily
involved. Iran has also been hedging its bets – including to counter U.S.
military presence and prevent a post-2014 U.S. military role in the country –
by cultivating Afghan politicians and the Arg Place through financial payoffs
and other means of influence and also by reaching out to the Taliban to
some extent. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have had
extensive and multifaceted engagement with the Taliban, including trying to
induce the group to negotiate.
Deeply ambivalent about U.S. intentions in Afghanistan and displeased
by the prospect of U.S. long-term bases there, Russia nonetheless considers
a limited U.S. post-2014 presence preferable to the instability it fears would
break out in Afghanistan without the BSA and a U.S. presence. Yet Russia
may also contribute to Afghanistan’s instability by cajoling the next Afghan
government into aggressive eradication of opium poppy. Moscow identifies
heroin flows from Afghanistan as a key source of Russia’s drug epidemic,
which is compounding its demographic crisis. The Russian government
continues to be wedded to the notion that the drug abuse and associated
spread of contagious diseases can be contained through poppy suppression
in Afghanistan. Thus, as the prospect of legal agricultural growth, rural
development, and other forms of alternative livelihoods decreasing the
size of Afghanistan’s drug trade remain elusive, Russia’s pressure on
Afghanistan to undertake intense eradication will likely grow. In the absence
of alternative livelihoods, eradication, however, will only impoverish and
alienate Afghan farmers, throw them into the hands of the Taliban opposing
eradication, delegitimize the Afghan government, and intensify instability
and the insurgency.
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What a Collapse Could Look Like: Civil War, Coup, or Assassination?
If the current political order and security arrangements cannot be
sustained and infighting or civil war do break out, it will become irresistible
for outside actors, including Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia, the Central Asian
countries, Saudi Arabia and China, to once again cultivate their favored
proxies to prosecute at least their minimal objectives in Afghanistan and
the region. Because of its counterterrorism and other concerns, the United
States is also unlikely to refrain from sponsoring and supporting its own
favored groups among the warring Afghans, even if through indirect means.
Whether direct or indirect, U.S. involvement on the Afghan battlefield will
intensify the conflict dynamics in some areas and perhaps reinforce some
of the pockets of security elsewhere. And in turn, the outsiders’ rivalries in
Afghanistan will spill beyond that country and intensify their competition in
other territories and functional domains.
The odds are low that a post-2014 conflict will approximate a neatly
delineated war between clearly defined groups along crisply-drawn lines on
the map. Unlike in the mid- and late 1990s, when the Taliban was steadily
pushing its way from the south, there is unlikely to be an easily recognizable
zone of battle moving north past the Shomali Plain and across the Hindu
Kush. Nor will the conflict quickly escalate to the level of killing that
Afghanistan experienced from the late 1970s through the 1990s. [In 1978
an estimated 40,000 Afghans were killed, followed by 80,000 in 1979. By
1987, between 1 million and 1.5 million Afghans, or about 9 percent of the
population, had died in the war.11 Deaths due to disease and starvation
were also high among Afghan refugees. In comparison, between several
thousand and 20,000 Afghans are believed to have died in 2001 as a result
of the U.S. intervention.12]
In the case of a post-2014 civil war, the fighting can be expected to be
highly localized and complex. Some locations, including perhaps in the surge
areas of the south, may well remain isolated security pockets as a result of
strong ANSF presence and, perhaps, sufficiently effective governance. Other
places, such as the province of Balkh and most of the province Herat, also
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have a chance of remaining rather stable and experiencing little fighting
since key local government officials or power brokers have these areas firmly
in their grip. Elsewhere, such as in parts of Kandahar and in Nangarhar,
the contest may be as much between the Taliban and the Afghan National
Security Forces as among various Durrani Pashtun powerbrokers linked
to the Afghan government. There may also be fighting among the “new
warlords” and powerbrokers who have emerged in that region over the past
decade by providing services to the international community. Parts of the
north, including Kunduz and Baghlan, have a high chance of blowing up
into vicious ethnic conflicts. So does Ghazni in the center. Kabul would likely
be among the last places to succumb to any future civil war; but if it does,
the bloodbath is less likely to come from the capital being shelled from the
outside, like during the 1990s, but rather from fierce street fighting. Rightly
or not, many Pashtuns in Kabul feel that they were dispossessed of their
land there by the influx of Tajiks after 2002, and many are poised to settle
the score. A splintering of the ANSF would rapidly fan such civil war fires,
with the Afghan National Police, Afghan Local Police, and other militias
being the first to fall apart and start supporting rival powerbrokers.
One big question is, can whatever pockets of security, micro-deals, and
micro-accommodations that might exist in such a future scenario remain
sufficiently insulated from external fighting and contestation elsewhere
in the country? At least some locales will be highly vulnerable to security
problems leaking in from the outside. Since many patronage networks run
throughout the country, there may well be only a few communities and areas
in Afghanistan able to avoid being drawn into surrounding conflicts. Much
will depend not only on the quality and robustness of the security forces in
the areas—whether the ANSF, the ALP, or warlords’ militias—but also on the
quality and robustness of local governance.
But there is also the possibility of a military coup after 2014, not a rare
phenomenon in South Asia. Even with all its outstanding problems, the
Afghan National Army will be the most trained institution in Afghanistan.
One coup scenario could feature a revolt by the increasingly professional
mid-level commanders whose promotions are frustrated by their politicized
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bosses. Another possibility is that Afghan National Army commanders, or at
least commanders of a particular ethnic faction within it, may well consider
military rule preferable to a civil war. Given how extremely dissatisfied with
the current political system many Afghans are, overwhelmingly seeing it as
an exclusionary mafia rule, they may even welcome a coup. Already, calls for
a strongman rule are not infrequent in Afghanistan. But the different groups
at odds with each other—Ghilzai Pashtuns, Durrani Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks,
and Hazaras—and the many subgroups under these broad categories are
hardly likely to agree on who that strongman should be.
President Karzai is likely conscious of the coup specter at least to some
extent. For a long time his relationship with the Afghan National Security
Forces was at arm’s length at best, despite the fact that at other times he
has fired various ANSF leaders in order to break up their patronage networks
and has appointed new leaders more likely to be loyal to him, or at least
without the same level of independent power. The summer 2012 reshuffle
of key cabinet security and intelligence posts was yet another example of
his approach to controlling the ANSF. Rather than trying to develop his own
strong and direct control over the Afghan National Security Forces, he has—
typically—preferred to operate by dividing and co-opting his potential political
rivals within the ANSF. However, in his BSA tactical maneuvers and power
plays, he might have lost track of the fact that his unwillingness to sign the
BSA and the prospect of a total U.S. military departure from Afghanistan
threatens not only many Afghan elites and powerbrokers as well as ordinary
people, but also the Afghan military. If political negotiations among
presidential contenders and Afghan powerbrokers and vote recounts delay
the formation of Afghan government and U.S. departure from Afghanistan
seems imminent, Karzai’s continued recalcitrance to sign the BSA may
trigger a coup or an assassination. But should such a scenario materialize,
would all political support for a sustained Western military presence in
Afghanistan evaporate? Or would the United States and allied countries
try to redefine such developments in a way similar to their handling of the
military coup in Egypt?
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So what the battlefield would look like in 2015 and after remains very
much undetermined. The zero option of no U.S. and potentially other
Western troops in Afghanistan is more alive than ever, even as many
uncertainties about Afghanistan’s capacity to maintain stability and hold off
the Taliban and civil war remain. Clearly, the economic outlook will remain
troubled for years to come. A 2014 presidential election that despite its
imperfections is seen as broadly acceptable to the Afghan people would
inject confidence into the country‘s citizens and strengthen support among
the international community. Similarly, an agreed BSA between Afghanistan
and the U.S. and a continued, albeit limited, presence of international
forces after 2014 would help assuage and manage the fears, uncertainties,
hedging, and fissiparous tendencies on the rise in Afghanistan. Neither a
BSA nor an international presence will resolve the misgovernance that has
characterized Afghanistan over the past decade, but they can provide an
enabling environment for improving it. And they would also provide a much
better platform for negotiating with the Taliban.
Vanda Felbab-Brown is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution
and author of “Aspiration and Ambivalence: Strategies and Realities of
Counterinsurgency and State-building in Afghanistan” (Washington, D.C.:
Brookings Institution, 2013).
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Afghan Ministry of Interior data cited in Associated Press, ‘Fighting Alone, Afghans Said to Hold Taliban Back,’ 3 November, 2013.
Afghan Ministry of Interior data cited in Frud Bezhan, ‘Afghan Security Forces Pass First Test, But Questions Remain,’ Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, 2 November, 2013,
Author’s interviews with U.S. State and Defense Department officials involved in the negotiations, Kabul, July 2013, and Washington, D.C., September and October 2013.
See, for example, Rhodes, Ben, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, ‘2014 Foreign Policy Priorities for the Obama Administration, ‘The Washington Foreign Press Center, Washing
ton DC, 29 January, 2014,
Author’s interviews with Afghan national and local politicians, Afghanistan, July 2013.
Author’s interviews with northern Afghan politicians, Kabul, July 2013.
Ahmed, A., and Rosenberg, M., ‘Karzai Arranged Secret Contacts with the Taliban,’ New York Times,
3 February, 2014.
World Bank, ‘South Asia Economic Focus: Turmoil in Global Capital Markets is a Wake-Up Call for South Asia, World Bank Says,’ Press Release, October 9, 2013,
Author’s interviews with Chinese officials, Beijing, October 2013.
Author’s interviews with Indian government officials, Washington, DC, Spring 2013.
These numbers are drawn from Ryan Evans, ‘The Once and Future Civil War in Afghanistan,’ Foreign, 26 July, 2012,
Afghanistan‘s economy during transition:
Challenges and possible international
William A. Byrd
Background on Afghanistan‘s Economy1
Historically, the economy of Afghanistan had an overall structure similar
to that of many low-income countries involving largely low-productivity
subsistence-based economic activities (in which agriculture was the largest
source of livelihoods for the population). However, the Afghan economy
has been greatly distorted by several decades of protracted conflict and
subsequently by large inflows of aid and international military spending since
2001, especially in recent years. International assistance to Afghanistan,
including aid to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) but not international
military expenditures on their own forces, peaked at an estimated US $15.7
billion in 2010/11, approximately equivalent to the country’s estimated
GDP in that year. Although much aid to Afghanistan was not actually spent
in the country, and much of the remainder translated into higher imports
and capital flight rather than stimulating domestic production within
Afghanistan, nevertheless the economic and other impacts of aid have been
very large—ranging from extremely high demand for the quite limited supply
of skilled and professional Afghan human resources to higher real estate
prices to more general rises in wage rates especially in larger cities, among
Economic growth in Afghanistan, averaging over nine percent p.a. over the
past decade, has been among the most rapid in the world, but it has been
subject to large year-to-year fluctuations emanating from the agricultural
sector as well as to a lesser extent from changing aid levels. As compared to
other low-income developing countries undergoing post-conflict transitions,
Afghanistan’s economic structure has shifted more in favor of services and
much less toward industry.2 This reflects the stimulative impact of large
financial inflows on growth of certain services (such as transportation,
security services, etc.), as well as notably construction (post-2001
construction boom, massive construction of facilities and roads etc.). Higher
demand for agricultural and manufactured products, on the other hand, has
been satisfied to a large extent through imports (the limited development
of manufacturing has been based largely on inputs from the agricultural
sector). Agriculture remains central both as part of the overall economy
and as a source of livelihoods for many millions of Afghans. Opium, whose
illicit cultivation was very limited in size and geographical spread prior to the
1970s, burgeoned during the several decades of protracted conflict, and
further expanded in the first decade of the 21st century. Accounting for the
bulk of global illicit opiates production, opium poppy is by far Afghanistan’s
most important crop (in terms of value), with major ramifications for the
rural economy, politics, governance, and security.
The grafting of a heavily service- and construction-oriented component
onto a low-income, largely subsistence economy is also reflected in
employment and livelihoods. Good labor market information is not available,
but agriculture remains the largest sector in terms of employment, even
though its share in GDP has dropped to 25 percent (in 2012). Industry
(including construction and mining) accounts for 21 percent of GDP (of which
manufacturing 13 percent and mining only one percent—the remainder
consists of construction), while services have risen to 54 percent.3
Afghanistan’s distorted economic structure should not detract from
the very real development progress achieved over the past dozen years.
Average per-capita income rose from an estimated $186 in 2002 to $688 in
2012, school enrollments rose from one million in 2002 (of whom very few
were girls) to 9.2 million in 2012 (of whom 3.6 million girls), life expectancy
rose substantially, and maternal mortality fell by half.4 In addition major
progress was achieved in some infrastructure sectors such as roads and
mobile telecommunications (though less in others such as irrigation and
electric power), government functionality and capacity development, and
macroeconomic and public financial management. Afghanistan’s domestic
revenues impressively increased from three percent of GDP in 2002 to 11
percent of GDP in 2011.
Despite these achievements, Afghanistan remains a very poor country,
with an estimated average per-capita income that is the lowest in Asia and
among the 20 lowest countries in the world. The poverty ratio is estimated at
36 percent, and the majority of Afghans are vulnerable to falling into poverty
due to any of a number of personal or economic shocks, or deterioration in
security. Social indicators are still among the worst in the world even after
the significant improvements over the past decade. Moreover, the economic
gains and social progress achieved—funded largely by extraordinary high aid
inflows—are fragile and at risk.
Challenges of Transition
Transition in Afghanistan has multiple dimensions—security, political, and
economic—and the fact that key stages in all three dimensions coincide in
2014 increases the complexity of the transition challenge and multiplies the
risks the country faces in the short run.
The ongoing security transition involves withdrawal of most international
combat troops from the country, and hand-over of full responsibilities for
security to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), occurring in the context
of the persistent Taliban insurgency (which benefits from sanctuary and
support in Pakistan) as well as other local conflicts. Questions arise about
the financial sustainability of ANSF given high costs and overwhelming
reliance on foreign resources, how critical operational and support functions
hitherto provided by international forces will be handled in the future when
the latter are drawn down, oversight and management of security forces,
and the coherence of the army and risks of fragmentation, particularly if
there are political problems.
The keystone of the political transition is the 2014 Presidential election—
which if successful will comprise an unprecedented peaceful transfer of
power from one Afghan leader to another through democratic process.
Provincial council elections at the same time, and Parliamentary elections
scheduled to be held in 2015, compound the challenges of political
transition. The degree to which the loose networks of non-Taliban political
elites at the central level will continue to cohere and minimize violence
in their interactions, how central-local political connections will evolve (or
break down), and whether serious peace negotiations with the Taliban will
be possible at some point, are among the questions which inject further
uncertainty into the political outlook.
Major declines over time in aid and international military expenditures
in Afghanistan, following a period of extraordinarily high aid dependency,
will comprise a central element of the economic transition. Falling aid will
impact on the structure of the economy and will necessitate significant
macroeconomic adjustments. Other sources of growth will need, over time,
to replace aid and foreign military spending so that robust economic growth
can be maintained even though at much lower levels than in the past. While
Afghanistan’s fairly rich mineral resources are widely seen as having good
potential to become a major source of growth over the longer term, this will
take a great deal of time, and also depends on whether Afghanistan can
avoid the trap of the “resource curse” which severely hinders the growth
and development of most resource-rich low-income countries. Agriculture,
agriculture-based economic activities, and some services will be essential
contributors to economic growth as well as especially to job creation.
From a political economy perspective, massive aid as well as the opium
economy provided enormous amounts of money, contracts, etc. which
together with the Afghan government’s authority over senior appointments
have funded, lubricated, and strengthened patronage networks. Declines in
financial flows and changes in their composition will definitely have political
economy implications, but these are not easy to predict. It is clear, however,
that total resources for patronage will fall sharply; the Afghan government’s
share in remaining funds will increase; declines will be greatest at local
levels, especially in insecure areas in the south/east which had heavy
international military presence and high aid; and drug money will become
increasingly important. It is not clear whether having a greater share in much
smaller financial inflows will enhance the importance of central authorities
and top politicians in providing patronage, or whether the overall decline
in funding, and possibly worsening insecurity, will on balance weaken the
central government’s role in this regard. A related question is whether and
how sustainably the loose patronage “network of networks” centered around
the current government leadership will hold together during the political
transition. Even if it does, at regional and local levels within Afghanistan
competition over declining funds for patronage may intensify, so localized
conflicts may continue and even proliferate, possibly aggravated by taking
revenge and “settling accounts” by currently excluded and marginalized
The different dimensions of transition interact with each other and could
turn out to be mutually reinforcing in a positive or negative direction. In
particular, political and security developments will have major implications
including through their impact on the expectations and confidence of the
population, domestic and foreign investors, and political leaders in aid- and
troop-providing countries, among others.
Economic Ramifications of Transition
Afghanistan’s economy faces serious challenges during the ongoing
transition and beyond 2014. A variety of scenarios and outcomes—ranging
from moderately positive and “muddling through” futures to dire worstcase scenarios—can be envisaged. Uncertainty itself will have economic
impacts during transition (which is already happening). For example, as of
the time of writing, by all indications the delay in signing and putting in place
the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Afghanistan and the USA
is having adverse impacts on economic confidence, resulting in declines
in demand for goods and services, investments, and real estate prices,
as well as individuals and businesses cutting spending, putting business
decisions on hold, some people deciding whether to stay away or leave the
country, and for some farmers, planting more opium poppy.6 While most
of these problematic effects are reversible if the BSA is put in place soon,
they are likely to get progressively worse, and harder to undo, the longer the
uncertainty over the BSA persists.
Despite the uncertainties, some future trends can be predicted with a
degree of confidence. Economic growth will slow down from extraordinarily
high levels in the dozen years since 2001,7 and investment will greatly
decline. Concomitantly, employment will not grow very rapidly, and already
high unemployment and underemployment rates (together estimated at
over 50 percent) will only get worse. Macroeconomic adjustment can be
expected to entail sharp reductions in imports, depreciation of the Afghan
currency, and likely higher inflation. Public finances will continually face
serious difficulties as aid drops and domestic revenue will take a very long
time to catch up. And the opium economy is expected to become more
important in relative as well as probably absolute terms.
While the economic ramifications of transition are very important, and
Afghanistan’s economic development matters a great deal in the long
run—for the country itself and for the region around it, the role of economic
factors in playing a major role influencing transition, let alone determining its
outcome, should not be overstated. Particularly on the downside, adverse
political and security developments could through a variety of effects have
serious repercussions for the economy, and at the extreme precipitate
economic collapse, whereas the reverse causation from economic factors
to political and security outcomes can be expected to be much more limited
in the short run. More specifically, a failed political transition (for example
if the election process and outcome are severely compromised as a result
of widespread violence or pervasive election fraud), or a collapse of security
(for example due to fragmentation of security forces along ethnic or other
lines), would have disastrous effects on the Afghan economy, leading to
a severe, likely prolonged economic contraction with associated adverse
human impacts.
Implications for the International Economy and Aid Community
Although the Afghan economy is small from a global perspective, the
potential international economic impacts of the country’s transition (its
political and security as well as economic transition) could be significant for
regional countries as well as in some respects more widely.
Among the international economic implications of Afghanistan’s transition
and much lower future growth of the Afghan economy, cross-border labor
flows and economic migration are likely to be among the most important,
especially for the surrounding region. The first and largest destinations for
such flows would be the neighboring countries of Pakistan and Iran. The
Gulf states and other neighbors of Afghanistan would come next. While
Europe and the USA (as well as other distant potential destinations such
as Australia) would see much smaller human flows from Afghanistan than
closer countries, these nevertheless could become significant as well. Earlier
waves of diaspora of educated elites from Afghanistan have created existing
connections in a number of countries, which will most likely facilitate future
flows of skilled and professional economic migrants to those countries.
Under downside scenarios for Afghanistan’s transition, especially if largescale and widespread violent conflict breaks out, there could well be large
outflows of refugees as well as economic migrants, as seen in the 1980s
and 1990s (when millions of Afghans moved into and stayed in Pakistan
and Iran). However, it is not clear whether conditions in the main destination
countries would be as conducive to large inflows of Afghans as they were in
those earlier decades. The governments of both Pakistan and Iran have
periodically launched initiatives to return Afghan refugees and migrants
to Afghanistan, although large numbers particularly of the latter remain in
both countries, and flows of migrant labor continue. Receptivity to large new
inflows of Afghans, however, may well be very limited.
Another international implication of the economic transition in
Afghanistan will be continuing, and more likely than not increasing, outflows
of opiates (mainly heroin) to other countries. This is nothing new, but any
ambitions to sharply cut production and supply of opiates from Afghanistan
in the next several years would be highly unrealistic. Instead, expectations
for progress will need to be kept modest—particularly since simplistic and
misguided efforts to curb opium production in the short run would be
counterproductive, and in some cases could be even more harmful than the
problem they would be trying to address in the first place.8
Looking beyond the next few years, Afghanistan has considerable
potential for developing its abundant underground resources—especially
solid minerals such as copper, iron, coal, and numerous others such as
gemstones, gold, and lithium, as well as to a lesser extent hydrocarbons
(natural gas and oil). Some of these resources are significant regionally and
even globally, and their exploitation would entail infrastructure requirements
(including in neighboring countries) and development of “resource
corridors” which could catalyze a wider range of economic activities and
more broad-based growth than mining investments typically generate on
their own.9 However, other than modest extraction of hydrocarbons and
ongoing smaller-scale exploitation of gemstones and other minerals (often
using artisanal techniques), major mining investments will take a long time
to reach fruition. The delays encountered in exploiting the world-class
Aynak copper resource, for which a contract was awarded in 2007 but major
investments have not yet started (and the Chinese company concerned is
attempting to renegotiate the contract), provide a good example.
Finally, the level and sustainment of international financial support to
Afghanistan will be an important factor contributing to economic outcomes
as well as security and other developments during Afghanistan’s current
transition and beyond 2014. A precipitous drop in aid to Afghanistan
(currently one of the most aid-dependent countries in the world), and
especially an aid cut-off, would be a recipe for disaster. This is amply
demonstrated by Afghanistan’s own historical experience after 1992,
when the demise of the Soviet Union resulted in abrupt stoppage of the
USSR’s massive financial and material support, precipitating the collapse
of the Najibullah government, descent into a bloody civil war characterized
by numerous human rights violations, the destruction of Kabul, and
subsequently the rise of the Taliban movement in reaction.10 International
experience also demonstrates the damage that can be caused by abrupt
aid cut-offs in situations characterized by ongoing violent conflict. Somalia
in the late 1980s is a good example, where an abrupt stoppage of aid, in a
highly aid-dependent country with a large army already facing a persistent
insurgency, precipitated collapse of the state and fueled civil war as the
army, no longer being paid, fragmented.11
Aid to Afghanistan arguably has been far too high during the second
half of the first decade of the 21st century, particularly in the peak “surge”
years, and disproportionately has gone to support ANSF and serve shortrun counter-insurgency and stabilization objectives.12 Inevitably there
has been significant waste and corruption, and Afghanistan lacked the
absorptive capacity to reap the full benefits of such massive amounts of
aid (as would any country faced with such a large inflow of resources).13
Clearly this assistance is unsustainable at recent levels. However, gradual
reductions in aid over time are called for rather than precipitous declines
or abrupt cut-offs. In this context, the recent halving of US civilian aid to
Afghanistan in the current fiscal year is worrisome,14 and if such trends
continue serious macroeconomic and fiscal problems would arise, with
damaging security, political, and regional / international as well as economic
implications. For its part, the new Afghan administration that comes into
office after the presidential election will need to set a strong positive tone
in terms of its commitment to development, and take meaningful actions to
improve governance, which will help prevent further precipitous declines in
international assistance.
William A. Byrd is a Senior Expert at the United States Institute of Peace
(USIP). This paper draws on the author’s recent and ongoing research
on various economic dimensions of transition in Afghanistan. The views
expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of
the U.S. Institute of Peace, which does not take policy positions.
Basic background on the Afghan economy and future economic prospects is provided in World Bank, Afghanistan in Transition: Looking Beyond 2014 (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2013), especially in
chapter 2.
See William Byrd, Gary Milante, and Kenneth Anye, A New Approach to Understanding Afghanistan’s Transition: Comparisons with International Postconflict Experience (U.S. Institute of Peace Peace
Works, No. 87, June 2013).
See World Bank, “Transition to Transformation Update” (presentation to Joint Coordination and Moni
toring Board meeting in Kabul, 29 January 2014).
World Bank, “Transition to Transformation Update”; see World Bank, Transition in Afghanistan: Looking Beyond 2014 (especially chapter 2) for more details on economic progress.
See William Byrd, “Changing Financial Flows during Afghanistan’s Transition: The Political Economy Fallout” (U.S. Institute of Peace PeaceBrief, No. 157, 11 September 2013).
See William A. Byrd, Casey Garret Johnson, and Sanaullah Tasal, “Compounding Uncertainty in Afgha
nistan: Economic Consequences of Delay in Signing the BSA” (U.S. Institute of Peace PeaceBrief, No. 166, 4 February 2014).
The World Bank has projected that economic growth will decline from over nine percent p.a. during the
past dozen years to the 4-6 percent p.a. range, which coupled with Afghanistan’s rapid population growth would imply much slower increases in average per-capita incomes (Afghanistan in Transition: Looking Beyond 2014, chapter 2).
See William Byrd, “Afghanistan and the International Drug Control Regime: Can the ‘Tail’ Wag the ‘Dog’?” (U.S. Institute of Peace PeaceBrief, No. 143, 17 April 2013). For a critique of the numerous simplistic and extreme options for addressing the drug issue in Afghanistan, see William Byrd, “Res
ponding to Afghanistan’s Opium Economy Challenge: Lessons and Policy Implications from a Develop
ment Perspective” (World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, No. 4545, March 2008).
See World Bank, Afghan Ministry of Mines, and AusAid, Afghanistan Resource Corridor Technical Summary (Tokyo Conference, 8 July 2012).
Afghanistan’s recent as well as earlier history is detailed in numerous publications; for a short distilla
tion of some lessons from this experience, including the catastrophic impact of the abrupt cut-off of Soviet assistance in 1992, see William Byrd. Lessons from Afghanistan’s History for the Current Tran
sition and Beyond (U.S. Institute of Peace Special Report no. 314, September 2012).
See Afghanistan in Transition: Looking Beyond 2014, Box 1.1, pp. 35-36.
See Paul Fishstein and Andrew Wilder, Winning Hearts and Minds? Examining the Relationship bet
ween Aid and Security in Afghanistan (Feinstein International Center, Tufts University, January 2012). See also Frances Z. Brown, The U.S. Surge and Afghan Local Governance: Lessons for Transition (U.S. Institute of Peace Special Report, No. 316, September 2012) for a discussion of the problematic assumptions behind the “surge” in stabilization-related aid at the local level in Afghanistan.
Large inflows of aid have had effects similar to those associated with sudden windfalls from exploita
tion of natural resources (or sharp price hikes for existing natural resource exports), sometimes refer
red to as an “aid tsunami” or the “aid curse”.
Although at over $1 billion per year the US civilian aid budget for Afghanistan remains very substan
tial, it is hard to see how the Tokyo pledge of approximately $4 billion in total civilian aid per year
from all donors can be achieved after this reduction. See
Women in Afghanistan
Dina Latek
It is nearly impossible to describe the situation of Afghan women in a
simple manner. This analysis examines recent developments as well as
the challenges in the struggle for women´s rights and gender equality,
which has seen a modest progress since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.
Most importantly, the article provides an analysis of women as actors
in Afghanistan by voicing and echoing their challenges, problems and
obstacles, which they encounter on a daily basis. Women, who every day,
fight for education, freedom and most importantly their basic rights.
Seldom mentioned in the media, famous and strong female leaders such
as Bibi Ayesha, a female warlord who has previously led a contingent of
men against the Soviets and endured the fight against the Taliban, have
and continue to exist today in Afghanistan.1 More recently, Sadaf Rahimi,
who in 2012 would have been the first Muslim female boxer to compete
in the Olympics, a sport that was once strictly prohibited to women in
Afghanistan. Out of fear for her physical safety in the ring, the International
Boxing Association has decided not to extend her wildcard invitation to the
London Olympics.2 These women are changing Afghanistan for the better
by acting as role models for other women. Discussing the roles of women in
Afghan society is a complex topic. After more than three decades of warfare
and instability, the role of the females in society has undergone significant
Women‘s rights
Legal and political developments
Throughout the changing political landscape of Afghanistan, women‘s
rights have been exploited by different groups for political gains, sometimes
having improved, but often being abused.4 Up until the conflict in the 1970s,
relatively steady progress for women‘s rights was visible in Afghanistan
during the 20th Century. In the year 1919, Afghan women became eligible
to vote - only a year after women in the UK and one year before the women
in the United States were allowed to vote. In the 1950s, “purdah” (gender
segregation) was eliminated; while in the 1960s a new constitution
guaranteed equality to women in many areas of life, including political
participation.5 Women were making important contributions to national
development. But after years of conflict, the Taliban emerged in 1994 and
ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 until 2001, enforcing their interpretation
of the Islamic law (Sharia). Women and girls were banned from: going to
school or studying, working, or leaving the house without a male chaperone,
accessing healthcare delivered by men (with women forbidden to work,
healthcare was virtually inaccessible), being involved in politics or speaking
publicly and from showing their skin in public.6 After the fall of the Taliban
regime in November 2001, hopes were high that the situation of women
would improve significantly.7 In the following years, many schools opened
their doors to girls and women went back to work.8
In December of 2001, the United Nations invited relevant Afghan parties
to an international conference in Bonn, Germany; where on December
5, 2001 the “Bonn Agreement”9 was signed by all parties.10 Following
strong international criticism of the Taliban’s treatment of Afghan women,
numerous programs, aimed at enabling them to live freely, safely and
with dignity, were launched.11 The drastic changes that followed resulted
in women‘s political participation, which, for example involved a quota of
around 25 percent of the parliamentarian seats to be reserved for women.12
International declarations and commitments to enhance the legal situation
of Afghan females were ratified:
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict in 2003;
The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in 2005;13
The UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education in 2005;14
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was ratified without any reservations in 2003, after originally being signed in 1980.
Also, a national legal framework was founded:
The establishment of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) in 200115
The ratification of a new constitution with an essential provision on
gender equality in 2004
New laws and amendments to previous laws, e.g.:16
Provisions of the Constitution and in the Electoral
law, which establish specific quotas for women in the Wolsi
Jirga and the Meshrano Jirga17 and
The Elimination of Violence against Women Law in 2009.18
Subsequently, international support poured in.19 Programs focusing on
education, human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of Afghan
women have been initiated and funded by international and national
Unquestionably, certain progress has been made along with improvements
towards equality.21 However, improvements in most regards have been
far more modest than hoped for.22 Furthermore, a climate of persisting
violence, in particular against women, the on-going political process and the
security forces transition have put Afghanistan in a challenging position.23
The question remains whether this progress can be sustained in face of
the withdrawal of international forces and the complete takeover of security
responsibility by the Afghan National Security Forces.24
The 2004 Constitution and conflicting social customs
When the new Constitution in 2004 was ratified, it stated that no law
“should contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam
in Afghanistan” and that “all citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman,
have equal rights and duties before the law”.25 The new 2004 Constitution
employed the 1964 Constitution as its foundation.26 The expressions
“beliefs” and “provisions” are rather vague and could be prone to
comprehensive interpretations.
Under Article 130 of the 2004 Constitution the extent and the applicability
of the Sharia in regards to the statutory law is defined.27 In accordance
with the 1964 Constitution, the 2004 Constitution only recognizes the
applicability of the Hanafi jurisprudence where the constitution and “other
laws” are silent. This stipulation evidently institutes the priority of the
constitution and positive law over un-enacted Islamic law, according to
However, the implementation of justice, as well as the administration
varied in different regions of the country. In major cities, courts resumed
to decide criminal cases as mandated by the law, while the formal legal
system frequently was not present in rural areas.29 In absence of effective
state structures, customary informal mechanisms for the administration
of justice, such as tribal or village councils, continued to be popular and
significant for resolving disputes, particularly in rural areas.30
These consultative gatherings of local elders are referred to as jirgas
and shuras, usually of men selected by the community, and are the primary
source of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes.31 According to
estimations, 80 percent of all disputes in Afghanistan are settled through
“traditional dispute resolution (TDR) mechanisms”.32 Village decision
making is characterized by cooperation and consensus. Shuras gather to
discuss particular issues or resolve disputes that arise within the village or
with neighboring areas. In most instances, members of shuras are elders
who have achieved positions of respect in the community.33 These traditional
positions are normally given to older men who are widely respected and
trusted for their honesty and goodwill. Almost every village has at least a few
of these men who are considered to be the legislative body of the village.34
However, they also imposed unsanctioned punishments.35 The councils
apply regionally diverse customary rules centered on interpretations of
Islamic principles. These potentially contravene the international human
rights standards to which Afghanistan is bound qua international law.36 Many
women stated limited access to justice in male-dominated tribal shuras, in
which inquiries concentrated on the settlement with the community and
families rather than the rights of the individual. In some villages women were
not allowed any access to dispute resolution mechanisms. In many cases,
the shuras did not respect the constitutional rights and sometimes violated
the rights of women. Often they resulted in outcomes that discriminated
against women. For example, the practice of baad, where young girls are
offered as compensation, is still reported.37
In some cases though, women´s advocacy groups stated that the
government got involved with local courts and encouraged them to interpret
laws favorable to women.38 Furthermore, since 2007, the United Nations
Development Program (UNDP) in collaboration with the Afghan Ministry of
Hajj and Religious Affairs (MoHRA) trained 5,000 mullahs on how to bring
improvements in women’s lives, related to education, marriages, rights,
and inheritance. The mullahs are then responsible for disseminating this
information on women’s rights from an Islamic perspective in different
districts in four provinces. Additionally, the MoHRA has assembled a book
for the Friday sermons - jumma khutbas - on how to incorporate gender
rights in a more Islamic way.39
Elimination of Violence Against Women Law (EVAW law) and
The controversy on the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law
underlines how far improvements of the legal situation of women resemble
a walk on eggshells:
Passed in 2009, it is the first law in Afghanistan to criminalize violence
against women.40 It identifies 22 acts as violence against women, proposes
punishments for the perpetrators as well as setting out various related
government responsibilities.41 It outlaws various forms of violence, including
child marriage, forced marriage, the trade of women for the purpose or under
the pretext of marriage, the traditional practice of baad that requires the
giving away of a woman or a girl to settle a dispute, forced self-immolation and
17 other acts of violence including rape and physical abuse.42 The country’s
penal code, dating from 1976 enforces crimes such as bodily harm, forced
marriage and murder; however, no explicit references to violence within the
family or to underage marriage are being made. The Afghan civil code, as
another example, stipulates the legal minimum marriage age for girls at
15, but there are no punishments in the penal code for violators. The penal
code also conflates rape with consensual adultery, which both are criminal
acts. Thus a separate law, specifically on violence against women, would
therefore send a strong signal that there would be no impunity for abuses
against women, and force the Afghan government to take the issue more
seriously.43 It therefore represents a huge achievement, particularly since
many acts that the law penalizes are not considered crimes by the greater
part of the Afghan society, including law enforcement.44
However, the political will to effectuate the law and consequently
the actual implementation of the law itself is limited. As such is also the
awareness of the EVAW law; although the AIHRC, some justice implementers,
and civil society make efforts to increase it. Parts of the public and religious
community deem the law un-Islamic. Thus, a lack of its successful and
proper enforcement continues.45 Human Rights Watch even concludes that
the Afghan government has done a poor job enforcing it.46 One explanation
of women’s rights activists for the low enforcement is a lack of social
Although approved by presidential decree, it was never endorsed by
the Afghan parliament. Article 79 of the current constitution (2004) states
that a Presidential decree is legal, except if rejected by the Parliament.48 A
number of laws have been put in place in this way and remain in force even
though parliament has not ratified them, as is the case with the EVAW Law.49
Attempts to achieve parliamentary acceptance were already made in the
fall of 2009, since some activists hope parliamentary approval would attain
greater legitimacy and thus improve implementation.50 However, due to
controversial reactions to the law, particularly by influential religious leaders,
Afghanistan’s women’s rights community was split for years whether to
present the EVAW law to parliament for ratification. The majority seems to
think that the law should be left as a presidential decree as it would never
get past parliamentary ratification in an acceptable form.52
In the latest attempt, in May 2013, reactionary elements in the parliament
opposed at least eight articles in the legislation.53 The parliamentary
discussion quickly was broken off after a series of inflammatory remarks
from conservative MPs.54 Particularly, the parts of the law outlawing forced
and child marriage and unrestricted access to health care, education and
women’s shelters were considered to be “un-Islamic” by several members
of the Parliament who proposed eradicating these provisions from the law.55
However, a National Action Plan for the EVAW Law is being drafted, which
will define specific steps to apply the law by raising awareness and executing
protective and preventive measures, which will include the reporting and
monitoring of Violence against Women (VAW) cases.56
The Shia Personal Status Law
In March 2009, international outrage arose over the Shiite Personal Status
Law (SPSL), which included a handful of articles that restricted the rights of
Afghan Shia women.57 Pursuant to the 2004 Constitution, the 2009 Shia
Personal Status Law governs family and marital issues for the approximately
19 percent of the population who are Shia. Although the law officially
recognized the Shia minority, the law drew controversy both domestically
and internationally due to its failure to promote gender equality. The SPSL
directly contradicts Afghanistan’s constitution, which bans any kind of
discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan as article 22
of the constitution states that men and women „have equal rights and duties
before the law.“ The law also contravenes the Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to which Afghanistan is a
state party.59 Furthermore, the law contains articles that are of particular
concern, including those on minimum age of marriage, polygamy, and the
right of inheritance, the right of self-determination, freedom of movement,
sexual obligations, and guardianship.60
Attempts to alter the law were made.61 In April 2009 around 300 Afghan
Shiite women carrying banners demonstrated against the conservative
marriage law in Kabul.62 Around 1,000 Afghan men demonstrated against
the protesters, some of them throwing stones. Police struggled to keep the
two groups apart. 63
In response to international criticism, president Karzai promised to
examine the law in regards to any contradictions to the constitution or
the sharia, and to carry out any corrections. However, he stated that
apprehensions are due to misinterpretations. Unbeknownst to the public, a
slightly modified version came into force in July 2009.64
In February 2014, a new law was drafted, which caused an international
outcry, as it would introduce changes to the criminal code prohibiting
judicial authorities from questioning the relatives of a criminal defendant.
It would also limit testimony in domestic violence65 and consequently make
prosecutions of abusers difficult.66 Although it does not specifically refer to
women or domestic violence, Article 26 bars a broad swath of “relatives” for
acting as witnesses, a concern in a country where the majority of violence
against women is committed by or in front of family members.67 The bill
is part of a new version of the Afghan Penal Code, a project the Afghan
Parliament has been working on for six years.68 The law awaits final signature
from President Hamid Karzai.69
In November 2013, a law drafted by Afghan officials that would have
reinstated public execution by stoning as a punishment for adultery, was
stopped after being leaked to the media.70
Women in the Afghan society today
Although women have made substantial strides in the public sphere
since 2001, their status within the family remained largely unchanged.
In a patriarchal, patrilineal society, women face deep currents of Islamic
conservatism, and family and community disapproval for challenging
traditional gender roles.71 Social custom limits women’s freedom of
movement without male consent or a male chaperone.72 Owing to this
cultural and tribal norms that also curtail interactions between unrelated
men and women, women face particularly tight constraints on economic,
social, and political activity.73 Boundaries remain for women’s entry to
the public sphere. According to a survey in 2012, 80 percent of females
stated that women should be allowed to work outside the home compared
to 55 percent of men.74 Nevertheless, although patriarchal relations in
Afghanistan share certain generic features, there are also considerable
disparities across Afghanistan – by class, ethnicity and location.75
Regional differences
Generally, in rural Afghanistan, the principle of purdah dictates that
women should be hidden from public view and therefore activities outside
the household are often barred to them, so as to preserve their honor
(gheirat).76 On the other hand, in certain mountainous, rural regions, where
entire settlements are made up of one kin, females often exercise greater
freedom of movement outside their home than women from lower-middle
and poorer classes in urban households.77
Women in Afghanistan´s Northern region enjoy certain liberties and
more rights in their childhood and youth. A Swiss newspaper observed that
the separation of the sexes was much less stringent in the city of Mazar-e
Sharif, the capital of the Northern Province of Balkh, than in other regions
of Afghanistan. The interaction between (unrelated) young men and women
is relatively unconstrained. They even attend school and work together.
If they come from a liberal family, young people may even meet in mixed
groups during leisure times; a gathering that would not be possible in many
other regions. In southern and eastern Afghanistan, boys and girls attend
separate schools, and rarely have any interaction, unless they are related
to each other. On the other side, one explanation for the reportedly higher
prevalence of female suicides in the North is attributed to these freedoms as
women often might find it harder to fit back into traditional structures, when
they try to stretch the limits of these freedoms, after their adolescence.78
Differences are also visible along the ethnic lines. Hazara women are said
to be much less constrained by behavioral norms that limit their activities
outside of their households, however they also face many difficulties.
Conversely, Pashtoons are generally regarded to be the most conservative
group in Afghanistan, particularly regarding the behavior of women. These
differences are visible also between regions like Jalalabad, which is mainly
inhabited by Pashtoons, and Bamyan, mainly populated by Hazara.79 The allencompassing burqa, which was imposed by the Taliban as mandatory for
any woman in the public domain, is mainly associated with female propriety
among women in the Pashtoon community.80
These regional differences can be seen in the survey, previously mentioned:
urban respondents more often agreed with the statement that women
should be allowed to work outside the home than their rural counterparts
(urban: 81 percent; rural: 61 percent). The greatest percentage of support
for women working outside the home could be found in the northwest with
80 percent, 75 percent in central/Kabul, 71 percent central/Hazarajat, 65
percent in the Northeast, 59 percent in the East and 58 percent in the West.
However, opposition was the highest in the southwest with 55 percent, and
in the east with 40 percent and in the west with 38 percent.81
Although women have made substantial strides in a patriarchal society,
they still face deep currents of Islamic conservatism, and disapproval for
challenging traditional gender roles.82 Families often prevent their daughters
from working because the basic idea of men and women operating together
in an office is sufficiently controversial.83 Another obstacle why women
choose to stay home is sexual harassment: female workers are forced
to navigate entrenched sexist and patriarchal attitudes, excuse sexual
advances, and live with memories of harassment, abuse and even rape.84
An April 2013 HRW-report stated that workplace sexual harassment is a
huge problem within the public and private sectors in Afghanistan.85
According to a World Bank report published in 2012, the employment
rate of women aged between 15 and 24 in 2010 was reported to be at 9.8
percent.86 It is important to note that it is difficult to extrapolate employment
data because it does not differentiate across various variables; such as sex,
education, province and sector.87
Progress can be seen in an increased number of girls having access
to education resulting in an increased female workforce in education,
healthcare,88 governmental entities, and international organizations.89 A
major milestone was the establishment of the Afghan Ministry of Women´s
Affairs (MOWA) in 2001.90 In 2010, women in the public sector accounted
for 4.7 percent of judges, 6.4 percent of prosecutors, 6.1 percent of
attorneys, 15.2 percent of university teachers, and 18.5 percent worked as
civil servants. It is important to note that women’s participation varied from
one region to another.91
A great share of the female workforce is employed in the government
sector.92 In large metropolitan cities, women are also employed as doctors,
attorneys, teachers, nurses, and engineers.93 However, it is important to
consider the difference between urban and rural areas, where a majority of
the population provides paid or unpaid contributions to their household.94
According to data, 32.1 percent of the active Afghan female population
was involved in agriculture in 2010.95 Specifically in rural areas, mobility
outside the household is limited for cultural reasons, therefore women
are mainly engaged in home-based income-generating activities, in
rudimentary unskilled pastoral and agricultural activities. Women working
in the household’s agricultural exploitation, for instance, provide unpaid
contribution to the economic welfare of their household through harvesting
activities.96 Traditionally livestock animals and their produce are considered
women’s domain.97
Afghan businesswomen and female entrepreneurs are largely
operating on a micro level, and require support on both a national as well
as international level. The biggest obstacles for female entrepreneurs in
Afghanistan are the conservative attitudes, which make it challenging for a
woman to run a business and make decisions independently.98
Females who formerly traded agricultural goods individually have
progressively started forming cooperatives. Possessing cooperative strength,
women are better able to target markets. An increase was registered in the
grouping of female horticulturalists into cooperatives and women producer
groups. In Herat, for example, female saffron growers formed associations.
In Pashtoon Zarghoon district, a producer association of 275 women owns
the land, whereas another association in the Ghoryan district, which consists
of 480 women, including many widows leasing the land for cultivation.99 In
the capital city of Kabul, the Afghan Pride Association (APA), a processing
center owned and operated by women has 200 members who work at the
center as processors and/or supervisors. The APA cooperates with various
women’s associations such as the Afghanistan Women Business Council
Services that enhance mobility can support gender equality in
employment and education. For example, improved transportation services
and infrastructure, as well as decreased commute times boosted female
attendance in Afghanistan.101 Moreover, legal literacy in combination with
livelihood training provided to Afghan women by an international NGO
enhanced their awareness of their rights, but also their readiness to take
up paid work outside the house.102 Noteworthy is the fact that the economic
empowerment of women has not been evaluated as often, as compared to
the number of projects undertaken and resources invested.103
Income generating programs
Several projects for economic empowerment in Afghanistan are being
supported and funded by international organizations, partnering countries
as well as NGOs. Several projects are worth mentioning;
•The First Micro Finance Bank Afghanistan, which is co-owned
by the Aga Khan Foundation;104 has a network of 45 bank branches
in 14 provinces. The number of Microfinance Loans disbursed
increased from 38,055 in 2008 to 42,015 in 2010. The percentage
of female borrowers105 increased from 13 percent in 2008 to 19
percent in 2013.107
•The Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program, funded by
the World Bank, and co-financed by the Afghanistan
Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), is helping the development of
rural small and medium businesses through microfinance and
technical assistance. The program is operating in 341 villages. The
number of borrowers increased from 1,014 at the end of 2011 to
more than 2,500 borrowers by March 2012. Altogether, they
consist of more than 31,000 active members with 47 percent
consisting of females.
• Through the Rebuilding Agricultural Markets Program/
Food and Agriculture Organization (RAMP/FAO) project, 850
village women producer groups were established. These coalitions
received training through female trainers and a supply of vaccines and
mixed feed livestock. Advisors guided the producer groups to
establish contacts with shop owners in the provincial centers for
the marketing of eggs.109
•The Rural Microfinance and Livestock Support Programme by the
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) was initiated
in 2009 and will continue until 2016. It is expected that a total of
40,678 households will benefit from the project. The project itself
aims at ameliorating the livelihoods of poor livestock owners in the
northern part of Afghanistan. The programme is targeting - amongst
other groups - women, particularly women who are head of
• An example for a completed and successful project is the
Vocational Training for Afghan Women by the World University
Service of Canada (WUSC) and CARE Canada from 2007 - 2012. It
offered Afghan women without any source of income, such as
widows and internal refugees, skills training to find employment or start their own business and therefore become more self-sufficient.
The project sought to address barriers to the economic
empowerment of women in Afghanistan and provided vulnerable
women with vocational training based on labor-market demand.
Other related support was literacy and numeracy training, life skills
training, child care services, assistance in the job search process,
job placements and apprenticeships. With regards to women that
aimed at starting their own business, the project provided business
management training and helped the women gain access to
microcredits. Amongst other results as of July 2011 1,976 trainees
(62 percent women) completed trade training and graduated with
marketable skills and 42 producer groups have been formed
(consisting of 507 members in total), of which 17
are currently operational (153 members) in Afghanistan.111
Women in police and army
Police and army are noteworthy, as one area of employment, in which
traditional gender roles are challenged:
Although the first Afghan policewoman took up her duties in 1967, once
the Taliban came to power in 1996, women were banned from serving in the
police. The Afghan Government, as well as international donors (including
donor states) have committed themselves to restore Afghanistan´s basic
institutions, and with it the Afghan National Police (ANP). Several initiatives
to increase the number of female police officers in the ANP have been
launched by the Afghan Government.112 One example is the Law and
Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOTFA), initiated in 2011 and aimed at
strengthening Afghanistan´s law enforcement. One of the aims is female
recruitment.113 However, social norms often prevent Afghan women from
approaching male police officers.114 Given the cultural sensitivity and stigma
around reporting sexual and other violence against women, an increase in
policewomen will result in improved access for women reporting violence
and seeking justice.115
A low, but steady increase in the number of female employees within the
ANP has already been achieved. In 2005 women amounted for 180 out of
53,400 personnel of ANP. As of July 2013, there were 1,551 female police
officers in a force of 157,000.116 The Afghan Ministry of Interior (MoI) stated
that as of June 2013, 1,974 women were employed by the ministry, including
195 female Central Prisons Department guards, ANP, and 15 Special Forces
Officers.117 Further, the Ministry of Interior is targeting the 5,000 mark of
women recruited by the end of 2014.118
As of November 2013 the Afghan army employed 458 women. In
September 2013, a gender and human rights department was inaugurated
within the Ministry of Defense and a female recruitment program was
launched.119 A new military academy which is modeled after The Royal
Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK – and will be Britain‘s only military
presence in the country once combat troops leave at the end of 2014 – is
located outside of Kabul.120 The Academy also intends to train 100 female
Afghan National Army officers per year with the first recruits to be chosen in
April 2014. The recruits are scheduled to start in June 2014 and will spend
a year at the academy before graduating.121
Noteworthy, as a role model, is the first female pilot in the Afghan air force
- Col Latifa Nabizada, who joined the military in 1989. In 1996, after the
Taliban seized control of Kabul, she fled to Pakistan. After the Taliban were
ousted she rejoined the Air Force and continued with her service.122 Brig
Gen Khatool Mohammadzai was the army‘s first female paratrooper. Since
1984, she has completed more than 600 jumps. During the days of the
Taliban regime she stayed at home and also returned after the regime’s fall.
Nevertheless, activists say she faces discrimination in a male dominated
Despite the above mentioned efforts, women face high challenges in
these contexts: The ANP lacks basic items, such as uniforms, and little or no
training is prevalent.124 Estimates suggest that 70–80 percent of the ANP
are illiterate, with illiteracy rates among policewomen being even higher.125
To combat illiteracy among the police, in 2011 the Literacy Empowerment
for Afghan Police (LEAP) has been implemented. It aims at improving the
quality of policing in Afghanistan through literacy training of Afghan National
Police.126 Career opportunities and training for women are particularly
limited, and many women find themselves performing menial tasks (such
as making tea), resulting in intelligent women being unmotivated and
unfulfilled. The opposite also exists: women, who lack basic skills and
motivation to serve their communities, but are promoted to jobs reserved
for women, undermining confidence in policewomen and fuel negative male
attitudes towards them.127
A severe problem is sexual harassment and assault of policewomen by
their male colleagues.128 The absence of safe and separate toilets makes
women particularly vulnerable. This was confirmed by several reports of
women claiming that sexual assaults occurred in isolated locations such
as unsafe toilets and changing areas. Three orders to install facilities in
police stations since 2012 have not been implemented, even though the
government had promised the funds.129 Sexual assaults against female
police officers show how deeply embedded (sexual) violence against women
is in the Afghan society.130 An unpublished United Nations report found that
70 percent of policewomen personally experienced sexual harassment or
sexual violence themselves; however a rather smaller segment stated that
they were raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.131 The new Minister of the
Interior repeated the commitment to install mechanisms to protect women
from abuse and harassment.132
The commander of the Kabul city police set guidelines in 2013 targeting
the improvement of working conditions for the 300 female police officers
in Kabul, preventing their mistreatment and discrimination by their male
colleagues.133 As part of the LOTFA measurements, preliminary assessments
of the infrastructural status of police stations occurred in 29 locations in
Kabul to further offer women police safe facilities, including separate toilets
and dressing rooms.134
In regards to free and compulsory education, Article 4 of the Afghan
education law states that the “intermediate (basic) education in Afghanistan
is compulsory”.135 Article 43 of the Afghan 2004 Constitution states that
“education is the right of all citizens of Afghanistan, which shall be offered
up to the B.A. [undergraduate Bachelor] level in the state educational
institutes free of charge by the state.”136 Hence, secondary education and
Higher education are free but not compulsory.137
During the Taliban regime, the vast majority of girls over eight did not
receive any education, especially in urban areas, although some secret
schools remained in operation. The United Nations estimated that only 3
percent were somewhat being educated under the Taliban.138 According
to the data generated by the Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE) in 2011,
the student enrollment increased eightfold from less than one million in
2001 to more than 7.3 million in 2011139 – with more than 38140 percent
of them being girls compared to fewer than 900,000 students (all male) in
2002.141 In 2012 the number of students enrolled in various forms of formal
education was 8,328,350 with 38.04 percent comprising female students
and 61.96 percent male students. However, there are provinces with a
very low percentage of overall enrolment: Uruzgan (2 percent), Helmand (4
percent), Zabul (5.2 percent) and Kandahar (11 percent). Zabul had the
least number of students enrolled with a total of 21,114.142 In the Northern
Province Balk, as an example of a region where the situation for girls is
better, around 50 percent of the girls are in school and 40 percent continue
at the university level. Women´s graduation from university has led to an
increase in the female workforce.143
According to data revealed in 2013, the total number of schools, which
included primary, middle, professional, nighttime schools, teacher training
and religious schools was 14,394.144 There were a total of 12,802 schools
between 2010 and 2011, out of these 1,974 were schools for girls and
6,858 were mixed schools, according to the Afghan Central Statistics
In regards to higher education, 112,367 students were enrolled at 60
government and private universities, of which 19,934 were female students.
Out of 4,873 university teachers, the total number of female teachers
numbered at 603. In regards to vocational training, data revealed that
there were only a few women; out of 27,019 students 3,245 were female.
The highest enrolment in vocational training for women was in management
and accounting, with around 50 percent of the students.146
The rise in female students is due to the fact that the MoE implemented
programs to tackle gender disparity, which aimed at building schools close
to villages and which included the establishment of more schools for girls.147
Other goals were the engagement of the communities and their elders
through school shuras in the decision-making, of the parents, in regards to
their children´s education, as well as the development of various teacher
education programs to train and develop more female teachers.148 The
number of teachers has considerably risen since 2002, leading to 174,400
teachers in 2011 of which approximately 50,000 were female teachers.149
Nevertheless, the progress made in educational outcomes appears to be
stronger for men than women, signifying the risk of widening gender gaps.
In Afghanistan, exclusion has a strong gender dimension: women still have
limited access to and command over productive resources, illustrated by a
low female literacy rate of 22 percent in comparison to a 51 percent rate for
men;150 and women’s literacy rate in rural areas was more than three times
lower than urban areas.151 More than half of all girls are still not attending
school. Improvements in the context of amongst other areas female literacy
have been far more modest than hoped for.152
Another issue in regards to the education of women or girls is security.
Parents, particularly in insecure areas, out of fear for reprisals, such as acid
attacks on girls, or school burnings – are reluctant to send their daughters
to school.153 Periodic attacks in 2012 transpired against students, teachers
and school buildings, usually in the more conservative south and east of the
country, from where the Taliban insurgency draws most of its support.154 For
example, in Takhar province - a hotbed of militancy - four poisoning attacks
on schools for girls were reported between May and June in 2012.155 Such
attacks are coordinated by ultra-conservative elements of the Afghan society
that that are opposed to female education.156 One of the latest incidents in
April 2013 involved 74 schoolgirls that felt sick after smelling gas and had
to be brought to hospital.157
President Karzai calls local leaders to promote fairness and equality in
education for women, a right that was granted to women after the fall of
the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.158 Afghanistan has one of the youngest
populations in the world – more than 43 percent of the population is
14 years or younger.159 It is imperative to ensure quality in education in
order to maintain sustainable economic growth and stability. The Afghan
Government internationally has committed itself to increase the literacy rate
by 60 percent during the next seven years.160 It works in cooperation with
several international organizations and NGOs, as well as partner countries
for the enhancement of education. The main international actors are
e.g. the United Nations, which run several large-scale literacy projects in
Afghanistan in cooperation with the Afghan government,161 as well as USAID,
which works with the Afghan Government to improve opportunities in basic,
higher as well as technical and vocational education.162 Since 2002, USAID
has built more than 600 schools and provided more than over 100 million
textbooks to schools throughout the country.163
Also several NGOs work in this area. Some of the programs should be
named as example, especially as regional specific challenges get visible.
International education programs and initiatives in Afghanistan164
The five-year “Global Education First Initiative” which was
launched by the UN Secretary General in 2012, aims at putting
every child in school and improve of quality of learning.165
The Mobile Literacy Program in Afghanistan, carried out by the
Afghan Institute for Learning (AIL) in conjunction with Creating
Hope International - was a one year pilot project aimed at improving
literacy skills of rural communities, specifically targeting women.166
• In September 2013, USAID in cooperation with NGOs launched a
project to provide 840 women and their children with community
and home-based literacy classes. Additionally 40 community
libraries will be set up, with the aim of reaching more than 20,000
users. The project will last two years and is implemented in
Mazar-I-Sharif, Badakhshan, Kapisa, Bamiyan, Ghazni, Panjsheer and
Kabul provinces.167
Established in 2008, the Programme for Enhancement of Literacy
in Afghanistan (ELA) initially provided literacy education, skill
development and income generation opportunities within 18
provinces of Afghanistan to around 600,000 youth and adult
illiterates - of whom 60 percent were female. Additionally, the
building of institutional and human capacity of the National
Literacy Centre is targeted at ensuring the sustainability of literacy
education.168 Through the support of the governments of Sweden and
Japan, ELA was able to expand its activities to 27 provinces by
providing courses in basic literacy, numeracy, and skills to an
additional 580,000 adult learners.169 The third phase of this
progamme was launched in October 2013.170
The Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) is
running a project enabling 250,000 girls in rural Afghanistan to get
access to quality education.
The Radio Literacy Program in Ghazni province educates the
residents of Qara Bagh district on basic reading and writing in
Pashto. The program depends on hand-crank radios and lesson
books that are handed out to local residents by Afghan National
Security Forces and the Afghan Local Police. The lessons are
broadcast from a radio tower and received on the radios.171
• A rather unique project worth mentioning for its creativity is
“Skateistan” – an education project based in Kabul, which teaches
children to skateboard. 40 percent of its members are girls – a
rarity in a country, where until recently women were banned from
participating in sport.172
Violence against women
In Afghanistan, violence against women exists in several forms.173 The
topic itself is deemed taboo in Afghanistan´s traditional society, yet it is
very common.174 The only statistical estimates concerning the prevalence
of violence against women available are derived from a nationwide survey
conducted in 2008, in which 4,700 women in 16 provinces of Afghanistan
were interviewed.175
In the first six months of 2013, the Afghanistan Independent Human
Rights Commission (AIHRC) registered and collected reports of physical,
sexual, economic, verbal and psychological violence, and other forms of
violence connected to harmful traditions and customs.176
The chart below illustrates data collected and compared by the AIHRC of
the first six months in 2012 and 2013. In the first six months of 2013 1,249
cases of physical violence against women were registered, whereas in 2012
only 889 cases were registered, resulting in a 30.1 percent increase over
the same period in 2012. The AIHRC assumes that the increase could also
stem from increased public awareness. Nevertheless, AIHRC believes that
the actual amount of incidents was higher given the continuing stigma and
risk of reprisal associated with reporting such violence.177
Chart based on table of the Afghanistan independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC):
Violence against Women in Afghanistan (The first six months of the year-2013)179
Furthermore, most women do not seek legal assistance because they
are unaware of their rights, and further fear to be prosecuted themselves or
being returned to their family or perpetrator.180
Rape, Honor crimes and forced marriage
Honor killings are committed against women by a member of a family
or a tribe, typically executed by a man.181 The motives for these offenses
range from a simple rumor: being associated with the opposite sex to sexual
relations or running away from home.182
It is widely perceived in Afghanistan that women carry the family‘s
reputation. Men feel the societal pressure and therefore the right to control
women not to bring shame to the family.183 Women and girls try at all costs
to avoid actions causing shame to men or the family. Some Afghan tribes in
southern Afghanistan even consider shame that is brought upon one family
as a shame brought upon the entire tribe.184
AIHRC stated in November 2013 that during the previous two years, more
than 240 honor-killings have been recorded by the AIHCR.185 Given the fact
that there is a high rate of under-reporting the actual number of cases is
deemed to be much higher.186 RAWA estimated that in around 21 percent
of cases of honor killings, the husband of the victim was the perpetrator.
In approximately 57 percent of honor-killing incidents, the relatives of the
husband, such as his mother, or other relatives were the perpetrators.187
A high percentage of those involved in honor killings remains unknown.188
“Honor” is also central to the issue of rape.189 In the context of rape, the
community attributes shame rather to rape victims than to the perpetrator.
Even in the legal sphere, victims often find themselves being prosecuted for
the offense of zina (adultery).190 The EVAW Law for the first time introduced
“rape” as a criminal offense under Afghan law.191 It punishes rape with
“continued imprisonment,” widely interpreted as life imprisonment although
not every conviction resulted in such. If the act caused the death of the
victim, the law provides for the death sentence. The offense of “rape” does
not include spousal rape under the law.192
A prevalent form of violence correlated to a traditional practice is forced
marriage.193 This is the case, when women and girls must marry without
their consent, maybe even facing threats or violence, are kidnapped for
marriage, when they are 15 years or younger or are traded through informal
dispute resolution mechanisms.194 In Afghanistan baad195 is a customary
practice that involves the forcible exchange of women and girls as brides
to resolve blood feuds, debts196 or as compensation for criminal acts or
personal injury suffered by another party or family.197 In this way family
disputes may be settled in manners that infringe on the Afghan law, as well
as international human rights standards and are contrary to Islamic legal
principles – particularly if the resolution includes the practice of baad.199
Particularly in rural areas, even offenses involving violence against women
may resume to be solved through informal dispute resolution mechanisms
in sentences detrimental to women.200 As a consequence rape cases may
be settled through the exchange of women.201
However, women or girls that were married through baad, are rarely
respected, since she is linked to her male relative who committed the crime
that she was exchanged for.202 Badal is another form of forced marriage,
in which the exchange of daughters or sisters as brides between different
families or tribes takes place.203
In regards to child marriages, under the Civil Code in Afghanistan, the
legal age for marriage is 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys. A girl
younger than 16 years can get married with the consent of her father or
through a (competent) court. However, the marriage of a girl who is younger
than 15 years is not permissible.204 Nevertheless, child marriage remains
common in Afghanistan.205
According to data - collected between 2000 and 2011 by the Afghan
“Central Statistics Organisation” (CSO) and UNICEF206 - 20 percent of
women between 15 and 19 years are already married. Furthermore, 15
percent of girls surveyed were married before the age of 15, and 46 percent
were married before the age of 18. Education, wealth and the location of
household in which a girl lives, play an important role in the context of child
marriages.207 Thus, young women without education are more than three
times as vulnerable to be married under the age of 18 as their counterparts,
who have secondary education or higher.208 Particularly in times of wars and
severe insecurity the percentage of early marriage increases, based on the
aspiration of parents to safeguard their daughter’s honor against threats of
rape or possible forced marriage to militia commanders.209
Under the EVAW law those who arrange forced or underage marriages may
be sentenced to imprisonment of minimum two years, but implementation
remains limited.210
In Afghanistan female mobility without male consent or male guardian
is limited by social customs.211 Unaccompanied women are not commonly
accepted in society.212
As a last resort, in response to harmful practices and violence against
women in Afghanistan, women run away from home or in drastic cases even
“Running Away”, “Moral Crimes” and Zina
Women and girls trying to escape domestic violence or forced marriage
by running away often are treated as criminals rather than victims.214
Legally, “running away” or “home escape” is not a crime under Afghan law.
No provision in the Penal Code addresses the issue nor is it a crime under
Sharia law.215
Nevertheless, in instances, Afghan women and girls face punishment
from families and local governing institutions for leaving home without
permission.216 Based on local interpretation of “running away” as a “moral
crime”, often women who ran away ended up in prison.217 These included
even cases of women who running away from unlawful forced marriages or
domestic violence, were charged with “moral crimes”.218 “Moral Crimes” are
vaguely defined.219
The Supreme Court issued statements in 2010 and 2011 that “running
away” should be handled as a crime whenever a woman flees to a “stranger”
as opposed to a “relative” or “legal intimate”. In 2010 the court stated, that
running away from family or husbands, “could cause crimes like adultery
and prostitution and is against Sharia principles” and governed that the
act is prohibited and prosecutable based on discretionary punishment”.
Further, the court called for girls and women confronted with abuse to
refer their cases to judicial institutions and to the government rather than
resorting to such personal actions.220
While several high-level Afghan government officials, including from the
police and Justice Ministry, have recently publicly confirmed that “running
away” is not a crime under Afghan law, such statements have yet to be
translated into policy.221
In April 2012 the Attorney General’s Office ordered a halt to arrests and
convictions for “running away,” as it is not a crime under the law.222 Some
legal experts have indicated that a growing view that women and girls
should not be charged with “running away” has merely resulted in a shift
towards charging them with attempted zina (adultery).223 As such reports
exist that some justice officials conflated running away with the intent to
commit zina without taking into account the conditions that prompted the
woman to leave her home.224
“Zina,” the term for adultery and other illicit sexual relations, is a criminal
act under the penal code. Police and legal officials often charged women
with intent to commit zina detained them upon the request of the family for
social offenses such as running away from home, defying family choice of
a spouse and fleeing domestic violence.225 Consequently family members
track women down who ran away by accusing them of “zina”.226 Male
members of the family – contended that their criminal behavior faces no
scrutiny – may easily use these allegations as a weapon. They accuse or
threaten to accuse women of committing zina. In cases like these, women
have to undergo medical examinations causing serious harm to their
reputation and credibility, even when charges are never proven.227
Statistics published by the Afghan Interior Ministry indicated that the
number of women and girls who were detained for “moral crimes” in
Afghanistan increased to approximately 600 in May 2013 from 400 in
October 2011, which indicates a 50 percent increase in a year and a half.228
However, since 2012, the Afghan government and its international
partners have made some progress in addressing wrongful imprisonment of
women and girls for “moral crimes”. Key officials have spoken out, at least
on the illegality of “running away” prosecutions.229 E.g. in September 2012
three Afghan officials – one of them being the Minister of Justice – strongly
condemned the wrongful imprisonment of women and girls on the charge
of “running away”.230 Further, specialized units have made some progress
in increasing enforcement of the EVAW Law. There has been a small surge
in the number of shelters, and there seems to be a growing awareness by
police that many cases should be referred to a family court for resolution
through marriage or divorce rather than being sent to prosecutors.231
Suicide and self-immolation
In a drastic last resort, some women commit suicide to flee domestic
violence or forced marriage.232
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported that in 2012 there were more
than 171 cases of suicides as a result of domestic violence.233 It is assumed
that the real figure is substantially higher. Most suicides simply are not
registered because the families keep them secret since suicide, amongst
other things, is a grave sin in Islam.234 36 suicide attempts were registered
with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in four
Northern provinces in 2012, 10 women survived.235 Reports indicate that in
the – better developed - Northern Province of Balkh, suicide amongst young
women is on the rise. One explanation is that women in their youth enjoy
certain liberties, which – once grown up - makes it even harder for them
to accept the still existing restrictions of these freedoms, such as forced
marriages.236 A similar explanation is that women in cities tend to be more
educated, have greater access to the media and therefore get to know other
ways of living, which remain unattainable.237
One form of suicide is self-immolation.238 Treating doctors said that
disputes within the family, as well as poverty, forced marriages, drug
addiction and underage marriage are major reasons and motives behind the
decision to self-immolate.239 Many women – often burnt by fuel or cooking
oil – refuse to speak about the reasons behind their drastic actions.240
During the evaluation period of the first half year in 2013 AIHRC registered
34 instances of self-immolation of women in Afghanistan.241 Officials stated
that in 2011, 88 cases of self-immolation of women (altogether there were
94 persons) were registered in Western Afghanistan.242 Most cases in 2011
were clustered in the western Herat province, close to the border of Iran,
where it also has been described as a more common means of committing
suicide.243 However, in September 2013 the main hospital in Herat – also
cited by an UNAMA report in 2013 - stated that the province has experienced
a strong drop in the number of cases of self-immolation by women over
the previous six months. The hospital manager believes that the reason
for the decline is a raised level of awareness among the public, deriving
from campaigns by national and international NGOs in support of relevant
government organizations, in the city as well as far-flung districts.244
In 2011 the Afghan government launched a national media campaign to
address the growing problem of self-immolation. The campaign addressed
a range of issues of burn injuries from accidents, as well as issues of
domestic violence and abuse that seem to prompt many attempted selfimmolations.245
The French non-governmental organization HumaniTerra – which has
established a presence in Afghanistan since 2002 – inaugurated the Herat
Burn Centre in 2007. The center is a place of preventive medicine, care,
post-traumatic after-care and treats 700 patients annually. It has become
a national training center in 2009. The center is supervised by the Afghan
Health Ministry. The Organization also led a self-immolation prevention
campaign in the years from 2008 to 2011.246 A proposed Phase-II of the
self-immolation prevention campaign was designed for 12 calendar months,
to be carried out in Herat City. As partners, Voice of Women (VWO) and
HumaniTerra International provided awareness to students, their parents,
teachers of two schools, and to the people coming to Herat Regional
Hospital, Herat Burn Centre and Herat Maternity Hospital regarding the act
of self-immolation and its disastrous consequences.247 In Kabul, the Istiqlal
Hospital opened a specialized unit that treats women burn patients.248
Prosecution and support through the EVAW Law
In accordance with the EVAW law, women – who are victims of acts of
violence – have the right under the law to seek help from the Department
of Women´s Affairs (DoWA), Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights
Commission (AIHRC), the police or the prosecutor’s office. Dependent on the
woman´s wish, the Department of Women’s Affairs (DoWAs), AIHRC and the
Department of Huqooq [within the Ministry of Justice] frequently mediate or
refer the woman to relevant services, such as a women’s shelter.249 These
institutions attempt to find a solution by ways of mediation and dialogue.250
Lack of awareness of their legal rights and illiteracy reduced women‘s
ability to access justice.251 A culture of under-reporting of violence against
women in Afghanistan is present, which is partly nurtured by social norms
preventing most Afghan women from approaching male police officers.252
This results in a lack of prosecution as well as a culture of impunity.253
While implementation of the EVAW law remained weak, there were reports
of successful prosecutions by the Violence Against Women (VAW) units.254
These specialized VAW units were inaugurated in 2010, by the Afghan
Attorney General in cooperation with the International Law Organization
(IDLO), situated within the Attorney General´s Office in Kabul.255 The unit‘s
prosecutors obtain special trainings on gender justice. Within the first year
of establishment, the unit prosecuted approximately 300 cases, which
involved assault or rape and the prosecutions doubled from the first to
the last month of the initial year. A network of victim support services was
established by the Kabul Unit, which included services like housing, health,
and educational resources in order to facilitate their use by women and
girls.256 Subsequently in April 2011 a second Specialized Violence Against
Women (VAW) Unit was established within the Appeal Prosecution Office in
Herat province, with specialized prosecutors.257
During the year 2012, 1,352 complaints were brought to the Violence
Against Women (VAW) prosecution units for crimes under the EVAW law.
This indicates a significant increase over the 500 cases registered in the
year 2011. Provincial directorates of women’s affairs suggested that this
reflected an increased awareness of women’s rights more so than an
increase in the incidences of violence against women. The greater part of
complaints that were brought under the EVAW law was resolved through
family mediation. The VAW unit in Kabul impeached 38 cases and obtained
28 convictions, with the remaining 10 cases resulting in acquittals.258
Nationwide 355 Female Response Unit investigators were operating out
of 146 offices, which were primarily staffed by policewomen who addressed
violence and crimes against women, children, and families. Female police
officers are trained to help victims of domestic violence, however instructions
to wait for the victims to reach out hinder them. Women serving in civilian
and ANP positions in the MOI offered mediation and resources to prevent
future domestic violence.259
Women‘s shelters
Women seeking help in cases of domestic violence often have to turn for
help outside of their home and community. According to UNICEF, there were
14 women´s shelters in 2012. Data showed that approximately 40 percent
of the women in these shelters were under the age of 18.260
The number of shelters for women in Afghanistan has increased to
a quantity of 18 in 2013, according to Human Rights Watch.261 The U.S.
Department of State acknowledged the presence of 21 formal and informal
shelters. Since the expansion, which is due to international efforts, women’s
access to shelters has increased. In Kabul, also an increase in referrals
from police to women’s shelters was reported by NGOs, assumedly reflecting
improved ANP training and awareness raising. However, there are not
enough shelters for the actual number of women requiring assistance.262
Some of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan do not have a single shelter. It is
the more conservative southern half of the country that does not have any
shelters.263 Due to the lack of places in shelters, in some cases women were
taken into protective custody (including a detention center) by police for their
own protection. Women who could not be reunited with their families had
to remain in shelters, because “unaccompanied” women are not commonly
accepted in society.264
The shelters depend entirely on funding of international donors and
governments.265 According to HRW the Afghan government has shown no
interest in funding shelters through the government budget.266 However,
in 2011 the Afghan Government announced to nationalize all shelters and
bring them under the oversight of the Ministry of Women´s Affairs (MOWA).
Human Rights NGOs worked with the Ministry to change the regulations and
stop the proposed nationalization. Through a final shelter regulation, the
MOWA is authorized to regulate all shelters, but allows NGOs to continue to
run them.267
Societal attitudes toward shelters exist.268 In 2012, even the Minister
of Justice, Habibullah Ghaleb, equated women´s shelters as houses of
„prostitution and immorality“ provoking fierce condemnation from women‘s
groups.269 He later apologized for the remarks.270
Legal aid organizations in Afghanistan
It is important to note that there is a severe distinction in access to
justice for women in the regards to ethnicity, urban/rural location, level
of education and economic status. Gaining access to the formal justice
system is largely deemed to be better in the urban areas, although, it is
widely known that women have reduced access to both formal court and
traditional conflict resolution systems.271 Bearing in mind the high obstacles
in women’s access to justice, some organizations, funded by international
donors and/or international donor countries, nevertheless exist, as well as
legal aid services supported by the Afghan Government:272
The Legal Aid Organization of Afghanistan - established in 2006
- provides, amongst other things, free family law services to women in
addition to criminal legal aid.273
The Legal Aid Department was established in 1989 under the structure
of the Supreme Court. The department aims to defend the rights of indigent
suspects for free and ensures their access to justice. Since 2008 the Legal
Aid Department has been under the guidance of the Ministry of Justice
(MOJ).274 It operates in 24 provinces in Afghanistan, with the MOJ planning
to establish more offices.275
Legal organizations mainly focusing on women are:
• In Kabul, Justice for All Organization (JFAO) is a pro-bono legal
clinic, founded by judges, lawyers and prosecutors in March 2008;
JFAO is a non-profit, non-political and non-governmental
organization seeking to expand the rule of law and to promote
access to justice for marginalized groups in Afghanistan, such as
women, children and prisoners; sub-offices exist in Badakhshan,
Balkh, Baghlan, Herat, Kundoz and Takhar.276
• Other NGOs providing legal aid to women are: The Institute of
Destitute Accused (OIDA), Afghan Women Lawyers Organization
(AWLO), Ahmad Aba Women’s Association (AWE), Turkman Women
Activists Rights Association (TWARA) and Badghis Social and
Women Tailoring Association (BSWTA).277
Examples of other general legal aid organizations are: Da Qanoon
Gushtunky;278 Information Counseling and Legal Assistance (ICLA)
programme;279 The International Legal Aid Foundation-Afghanistan
Poverty, conflict, as well as slow economic and social progress are the
reason for Afghanistan´s startling health indicators:281 In 2013, the World
Health Organization (WHO) cited data from 2010 indicating a mortality rate of
460 per 100,000 live births.282 In 2014, PLOS Medical, a medical magazine
stated that maternal mortality is still high (approximately 300–400 deaths
per 100,000 births), but it has dropped by two-thirds since 2002.283 A larger
fraction will suffer long-term consequences from giving birth.284
In 2010, only 15 percent of deliveries occurred in health facilities.285
Between 2010 and 2011, an estimated 34 - 39 percent of births were
attended by skilled health personnel.286 The neonatal mortality rate was
estimated by the UN Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UNIGME) to be at 36 per 1,000 live births in 2012, and the infant rate at 71.
The female life expectancy at birth in 2010 was 61 years. In comparison,
the male life expectancy at birth in Afghanistan was at 62 years in 2010.287
Human resource development lacks skilled health professionals at all
levels of the health services, especially nurses, midwives, pharmacists,
environmental hygienists and a severe absence of female health workers in
the remote areas of the country. The main challenge is evident - insufficient
deployment of female health workers as numerous cultural restrictions on
women hinder their ability to work.288
As a response to overcome the shortage in skilled health professionals, the
Afghan Government in 2002 established the midwifery education program,
allowing for the development of a professional health care for women.
The program recognized the gender implications of residential schooling
in society. Families and village elders were ensured that strict rules and
security were set up and that it was therefore acceptable for these young
females to live together in the provincial capitals. In 2008 32 provinces had
midwifery schools.289 The number of midwifery schools increased from 5 in
2003 to 33 in 2010.290
After the fall of the Taliban regime, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health
(MoPH), funded by USAID and other donors, commenced a wide-ranging
overhaul of the health care system to improve the dire health situation in
Afghanistan. The program included guaranteeing that women and families
receive a basic package of health services (BPHS) at primary health care
facilities throughout the country:
• More than 3,000 midwives throughout Afghanistan have been
supported by various donors including USAID
• The training of 17,377 health care workers, supervisors, faculty
and MoPH staff in 28 areas of service delivery - ranging from
emergency obstetric and newborn care to mental health to family
planning - was conducted
Establishment of the national community health nursing education
program in order to meet critical shortages of nurses in rural areas
• Support of organizational growth and technical expertise of the
Afghan Midwives Association (AMA), as well as the Afghan Society
of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AFSOG)291
• Supported of midwifery schools, which have trained 1,695 new
midwives, of which 88 percent have been deployed to their
communities 292
To name one example for an international midwife training, in September
2011 an advanced training program for 31 experienced Afghan midwives
was conducted in Egypt. The training was sponsored by USAID, the Afghan
Ministry of Public Health and the Egyptian Government.293
Another aspect is the distance to health clinics and facilities. According
to a case study conducted by UNICEF, families stated the absence of
transportation, distance to services, insecure travel conditions, along with
the inability to afford transport or care, as obstacles. UNICEF also found that
health care knowledge among women impacted on their decision to seek
care: in Ragh – rural Afghanistan – only 30 percent of families sought care,
while 72 percent did so in the capital Kabul. The Ministry of Public Health
responded by developing a national strategy to increase the quantity of
qualified skilled birth attendants and emergency obstetric care facilities, as
well as the employment of community health workers to create a link between
the health system and rural communities. Also, six maternity waiting homes
(MWH) were constructed by UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Health in the
rural areas of Afghanistan – in the provinces of Kandahar, Badakhshan,
Laghman, Kunar Herat, and Bamyan – and they took up work in 2009. Each
one of the MWH is able to accommodate ten women and their newborns
and is staffed with two midwives.294
In December 2013 the Afghan Ministry of Public Health along with its UN
partners announced the introduction of two action plans to further reduce
maternal, neonatal and child deaths in the country: the Reproductive,
Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Plan and the Every Newborn Action
Plan. Both plans were established by the Reproductive and Child Health
Departments of the Ministry of Public Health and its partners, aiming at
the achievement of a 10 percent surge in access to crucial reproductive,
maternal, newborn and child health services by people living in Afghanistan’s
most underserved and underprivileged areas.295
Afghan women as main political actors
Women comprise more than half of Afghanistan´s population
(approximately 55 percent) and in the past decade, their participation in
politics has increased. This development has consistently been held up as a
major achievement for women’s rights since the fall of the Taliban.296
As of September 2013 there were 68 women members in the parliament’s
Lower House, 28 women senators in the Upper House, one female governor,
a female director of the Human Rights Commission, a female director of the
Red Crescent, and nine women were members of the High Peace Council,297
which is composited of 70 seats. Three cabinet-level positions were
occupied by female ministers - Public Health, Social Affairs, and Women’s
Affairs. Due to the implementation of the constitutionally mandated quota
system, more than 30 percent of Provincial Council members are women.298
Like in many other regards, women’s participation varied from one region to
another.299 In the Provincial Council in Balkh, to name one example, five of
the 19 members are women.300
Regarding the representation in parliament, in the year 2013, women
held 27.2 percent of the seats in parliament.301 Since 2006, the percentage
has been consistently between 27.3 – 27.7 percent. In comparison, the
female parliamentarians’ ratio was at 3.7 percent in the year 1990.302
Afghanistan ranks amongst the top 30 countries in the world with the
highest representation of women in the Parliament.303 Nevertheless,
traditional societal practices, including the need for male escorts or
permission to work, which limit women’s participation in politics and
activities outside their home community, continue. These likely influence
the central government’s male-dominated composition.304
Reports also indicate that the female members of the High Peace Council
were marginalized by their male counterparts, banned from participating
in initial contacts with representatives from the Taliban or other insurgent
groups, and largely excluded from pertinent decision-making processes.305
In May 2012, the Afghan Upper House of parliament quietly removed an
electoral law that stipulated that a quarter of all Provincial Council seats
should be allotted to women. Female politicians detected this and fought
to have the bill recalled. In July 2012, the Lower House reinstated the
law, however lowered the allotment to 20 percent. Many worried that this,
combined with then recent deadly attacks on female politicians, threatens
women’s participation – both as voters and potential candidates – in the
2014 presidential and parliamentary elections.306
Women who are active in public life face threats, violence and were the
targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. According to
reports, most female MPs experienced some type of threat or intimidation;
and many believed that the state could not or would not protect them.307
Most notably in 2013, troubling developments for women’s rights were
visible, with more attacks on, and killings of high-profile female government
and police officials.308 On the other hand, it should also be mentioned that
men who encourage women to advance their professional careers or who
support political rights exist.309 For example, in 2012 women and men were
protesting in Kabul together against the execution of a woman on charges
of adultery by the Taliban in Qimchok, Parwan Province.310
Historically, there have been famous Afghan female leaders such as
Nazoo Anaa, who is considered to be the mother of Afghan nationalism, or
Bibi Ayesha, the female “warlord”, who led men against both the Soviets and
the Taliban.311
Current examples of exceptional women in Afghanistan’s politics or state
administration can be found and some names should be mentioned here:
• Khadija Ghaznawi - who owns a logistics company and runs a
peace campaign group - was one of 17 presidential candidates
culled from an initial list of 27 who had registered for Afghanistan‘s
April presidential election when Hamid Karzai is due to step down.
In October 2013 she was disqualified and is not one of the
remaining 10 nominees for the post of president.312
• Colonel Jamila Bayaz – who was appointed in January 2014 as
district police chief of Kabul‘s District 1. It is for the first time in
Afghanistan that a woman has been appointed as district police
MP Fariba Ahmadi Kakar, after previously working as a teacher, was
elected in 2005 as an independent member of the Lower House
for the Kandahar province as one of 69 female deputies in the
249-seat chamber. She was subsequently reelected for the MP
position in 2010.314 In August 2013 she, along with her children,
was abducted at gunpoint by insurgents in the central province of
Ghazni. After a month she was reportedly freed in exchange for five
Taliban fighters.315
• Lieutenant Bibi Islam has been portrayed since 2010 as a rising
star of the ANP. Up until her death, she was considered the most
senior policewoman in her home-province of Helmand. She was
gunned down by unknown assassins on her way to work in July
2013.316 Only two months later her successor - Lieutenant Nigara was also killed under similar circumstances.317
In 2005, Habiba Sarobi was the first female to be appointed as a
governor by President Hamid Karzai.318
Women’s participation in political life – as voters, candidates, and
leaders - will help to ensure that their grievances are heard and interests
are secured in the long term. Progress has been made however modest it
might appear.320
The AREU sums it up perfectly: “While gender-specific norms are among
the most pervasive and resistant to change in any society, change is
Nevertheless, the question remains whether this progress can be
sustained in face of the withdrawal of international forces, with security taken
over by the ANSF.322 In order to expand and sustain improvements made
in gender equality and women´s rights, it will be imperative to proactively
reach out to rural citizens of Afghanistan – both men and women.323
Dina Latek is an Afghanistan analyst in the Country of Origin Information
Unit of the Austrian Federal Office for Immigration and Asylum.
Women‘s Organizations in Afghanistan
The fall of the Taliban created an increase of opportunities for women
and girls to obtain education, as well as participating in public life. Since
2001 plenty of organizations fighting for women´s rights and development
have been founded. According to a USAID report in mid-2012 45 percent of
civil society organizations assist women, compared to 18 percent in 2005.
These women and women´s rights groups have been demanding, but also
receiving, substantial improvements and access to public services. A few
organizations worth mentioning will be listed here:
•The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan
(RAWA), founded in 1977, is considered to be the oldest political
and social organization in Afghanistan.327 Initially an underground
organization, it is now a humanitarian organization, which con
tinuously fights domestic and international oppression of Afghans.328
Afghanistan Women Council (AWC) is a non-governmental
organization established in 1986 in Peshawar, Pakistan, aiming at
initially supporting female Afghan refugees there.329 Nowadays,
located in Afghanistan, it aims at promoting human rights as well
as the rights of women and children, peace building, gender and
United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) established in 2002 by the United Nation Security Council - is a
political mission with the aim of assisting in laying sustainable
peace and development in the country.331
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) established in 2002 in accordance with the provisions of the Bonn
Agreement332 – was enshrined in Article 58 of the 2004 Afghan
Constitution. Therefore it is a national institution in the within the
Afghan administration. However, it functions independently and
within the legal framework.333 The current chairperson is a woman:
Dr. Sima Samar.334
Asharq al-Awsat (22.4.2009)
Time (19.7.2012)
Pax Populi (12.3.2013)
Amnesty International UK (25.10.2013) (Hereinafter AI UK) and Asia Research Centre (2003/2004)
AI UK (25.10.2013) and US Department of State (17.11.2001) (Hereinafter USDOS)
AI UK (25.10.2013) and Asia Research Centre (2003/2004)
United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (2009) (Hereinafter UNAMA)
AI UK (25.10.2013)
The Bonn Agreement is an agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the
Re-establishment of Permanent Government Institutions. United Nations Peacemaker (5.12.2013) and United Nations Security Council (5.12.201)
Congressional Research Service (22.11.2013) (Hereinafter CRS) and CRS (17.01.2014)
Advocacy International (12.2010) (Hereinafter AI)
Human Rights Watch (3.2012) (hereinafter HRW)
The EVAW law was initially approved by presidential decree in 2009. However in May 2013 it was
rejected by parliament, as it was considered to be “un-Islamic”. Further explanation will be given in chapter ….
United Nations Treaty Collection (13.11.2013) (hereinafter UNTC)
AI (12.2010)
United Nations Treaty Collection (13.11.2013) (hereinafter UNTC)
AI (12.2010); United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
(23.7.2013) (Hereinafter UN CEDAW)
The EVAW law was initially approved by presidential decree in 2009. However in May 2013 it was
rejected by parliament, as it was considered to be “un-Islamic”. Further explanation will be given in chapter ….
HRW (3.2012)
Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (3.2012) (Hereinafter AREU) and UNAMA (2009)
AI UK (25.10.2013) and UNAMA (2009)
HRW (3.2013)
UN CEDAW (23.7.2013)
Cordaid (11.2013)
MoJ (2004)
United States Institute of Peace (3.2004) (Hereinafter USIP)
Finkelman, Andrew in The Fletcher School Online Journal for issues related to Southwest Asia and Islamic
Civilization (Spring 2005) (2) (Hereinafter Finkelman)
Finkelman (Spring 2005) and United Nation Public Administration Network (2004) (Hereinafter UN
USDOS (19.4.2013)
Schoiswohl, Michael in Int J Constitutional Law (10.2006) 4 (4) (Hereinafter Schoiswohl)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
USIP (21.12.2011); the same number is used by USDOS (19.4.2013)
Brick, Jennifer (09.2008)
USIP (21.12.2011);
USDOS (19.4.2013)
Schoiswohl (10.2006) and Brick, Jennifer (09.2008)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
AREU (7.2013)
United Nations News Centre (20.5.2013) (Hereinafter UNNC)
Open Democracy (29.11.2013)
UNNC (20.5.2013)
Open Democracy (29.11.2013)
Medica Afghanistan (9.6.2013)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
HRW (7.1.2014)
Open Democracy (29.11.2013)
AREU (7.2013)
Open Democracy (29.11.2013)
Open Democracy (29.11.2013)
Medica Afghanistan (9.6.2013)
Open Democracy (29.11.2013)
UNNC (20.5.2013), Reuters (18.5.2013) and Feminist Majority Foundation Blog (20.5.2013)
Open Democracy (29.11.2013)
UNAMA (8.12.2013)
AREU (9.2013)
AREU 2010
USDOS (19.4.2013)
Human Rights Watch (14.4.2009)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
Opendemocracy (29.11.2013)
RAWA (16.4.2009)
RAWA (16.4.2009)
Lauer, Sabrina (10.2012)
Washington Post (11.2.2014) (Hereinafter WP)
Human Rights Watch (4.2.2014) (Hereinafter HRW)
WP (11.2.2014)
DW (7.2.2014)
WP (11.2.2014)
(HRW 4.2.2014)
University of Notre Dame (8.2012)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
World Bank (11.2012) (Hereinafter WB)
AREU (7.2013)
Institute for Development Studies (12.2011) (Hereinafter IDS)
WB (11.2012)
IDS (12.2011)
Neue Züricher Zeitung (6.2.2014) (Hereinafter NZZ)
World Post (4.9.2012) and AREU (7.2013)
IDS (12 2011)
AREU (7.2013)
University of Notre Dame (8.2012)
HRW (4.3.2012)
IPS (17.5.2013)
HRW (25.4.2013)
WB (2012)
AREU (7.2013)
University of Notre Dame (8.2012); Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Education (2011) and
CSO (2011)
Cordaid (11.2013)
Advocacy International (12.2010)
Civil-Military Fusion Centre (2.2012)
Inter Press Service News Agency (17.5.2013)
University of Montana (4.4.2012)
ILO (5.2012)
AREU (7.2013)
International Labour Organization (5.2012) (Hereinafter ILO)
AREU (7.2013)
AREU (7.2013)
AREU (7.2013)
AREU (7.2013)
ILO (12.2012)
IDRC (2012/1)
AREU (7.2013)
Rizvi, Zaigham M. (6.10.2013)
In 2010 the number of individual depositors went up from 37,342 in 2009 to 57,841.
Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (2010)
Rizvi, Zaigham M. (6.10.2013)
WB (22.8.2012)
AREU (7.2013)
IFAD (2014)
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (11.2.2014)
OXFAM International (10.9.2013)
United Nations Development Programme (2013) (Hereinafter UNDP)
Crisisgroup (14.10.2013) and OXFAM (10.9.2013)
HRW (25.4.2013)
OXFAM (10.9.2013)
UNDP (6.2013)
OXFAM (10.9.2013) and HRW (25.4.2013)
United Nations General Assembly und Security Council (6.12.2013)
BBC News (27.10.2013)
BBC News (28.1.2014)
BBC News (18.6.2013)
BBC News (18.6.2013)
UNDP (6.2013)
UNDP (6.2013)
Description: LEAP has established literacy training materials, which are being provided in pre-service
and in-service training modules to 500 police literacy facilitators in 19 provinces by 24 Master Trai
ners. This technical expertise meant to be literacy materials specific for patrolmen/women and
non-commissioned officers. Currently, LEAP is supporting the Afghan Police Literacy Program by
providing Monthly Newsletter and Quarterly Magazine. LEAP has also been helping the Literacy De
partment of Ministry of Interior in long term institutional capacity building in quality police literacy;
Source: UNESCO (29.11.2013)
UNDP (6.2013)
Crisisgroup (14.10.2013
HRW (25.4.2013)
HRW (25.4.2013)
New York Times (16.9.2013)
United Nations General Assembly und Security Council (6.12.2013)
Crisisgroup (14.10.2013)
UNDP (6.2013)
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (21.7.2008) (Hereinafter UNESCO)
United Nation Public Administration Network (2004) (Hereinafter UNPAN)
United Nations Girls Education Initiative (2011) (Hereinafter UNGEI)
Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2010)
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Education (2011)(Hereinafter MoE)
Central Statistics Organization (2011) (hereinafter CSO)
University of Notre Dame (8.2012)
AREU (7.2013)
NZZ (6.2.2014)
AREU (7.2013)
CSO (2011)
AREU (7.2013)
CSO (2011)
MoE (2011)
University of Notre Dame (8.2012) and CSO (2011)
World Bank (26.7.2013) (Hereinafter WB)
AREU (7.2013)
HRW (3.2013)
Asia Foundation (11.2011) (Hereinafter AF) and Reuters (21.4.2013)
Reuters (17.4.2013)
Daily Mail Online (22.4.2013)and Policy Mic (21.4.2013) (Hereinafter Policy Mic)
Reuters (21.4.2013)
Reuters (21.4.2013)
Policy Mic (21.4.2013)
Index Mundi (21.02.2013)
UNAMA (25.10.2013)
UNAMA (08.09.2013
USAID (18.12.2013)
USAID (8.9.2013)
ACTED (no date)
UNGEI (09.2012)
UNESCO (29.11.2013)
UNESCO (2008) and MoE (8.12.2013)
MoE (8.12.2013)
UNESCO (22.10.2013)
IIP – United States Department of State (29.1.2013)
Skateistan (2013)
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (25.11.2013) (Hereinafter AIHRC)
AIHRC (2012)
HRW (4.9.2013); University of Notre Dame (8.2012) and GR (3.2008)
AIHRC (25.11.2013)
AIHRC (25.11.2013)
Economic violence: prevention from work and employment, misappropriation of salary and wage, sale of personal property or jewelry, deprivation from right to heritage, lack of provision of alimony, lack of
authority on family expenditures and others. AIHRC (25.11.2013)
AIHRC (25.11.2013)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
Reuters (10.6.2013)
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (6.2013) (Hereinafter UNHCR)
University of Montana (4.4.2012)
University of Montana (4.4.2012)
AIHRC (25.11.2013)
Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (10.6.2013) (Hereinafter RAWA) and Reuters
RAWA (10.6.2013) and Reuters (10.6.2013)
RAWA (10.6.2013)
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (8.7.2009) (Hereinafter OHCHR)
OHCHR (8.7.2009)
HRW (10.2.2013)
USDOS 19.4.2013
USDOS 19.4.2013
HRW (12.2009)
Medica Afghanistan (9.6.2013)
USIP (21.11.2011) and HRW (3.2012)
USIP (14.6.2013)
USIP (21.12.2011)
USIP (14.6.2013)
UNAMA (8.12.2013)
HRW (12.2009)
UNAMA (9.12.2010)
UNAMA (8.12.2013)
Asian Legal Information Institute (2006) and USDOS (19.4.2013)
HRW (4.9.2013)
CSO & UNICEF (1.2013)
United Nations Population Fund (2012) (Hereinafter UNFPA)
CSO & UNICEF (1.2013)
University of Notre Dame (8.2012)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
University of Notre Dame (8.12.2012); UNAMA (8.12.2013) and UNAMA (9.12.2010)
Human Rights Watch (31.1.2013)
UNAMA (12.2012); see also HRW (21.5.2013)
HRW (29.3.2012)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
HRW (21.5.2013)
HRW (3.2012)
HRW (29.3.2012)
HRW 21.5.2013
USDOS (19.4.2013)
HRW 21.5.2013; see also USDOS (19.4.2013)
USDOS see also UNAMA (12.2012)
USDOS (19.4.2013); see also HRW (3.2012)
HRW (3.2012)
HRW (3.2012)
HRW (21.5.2013)
HRW (21.5.2013)
UNNC (3.10.2012)
HRW (21.5.2013)
Child Victims of War (7.2012); see also University of Notre Dame (8.12.2012)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
Deutsche Welle (18.4.2013) (Hereinafter DW)
DW (18.4.2013)
NZZ (6.2.2014)
RAWA (19.4.2013)
BBC News (6.9.2011
RAWA (28.3.2012)
RAWA (28.3.2012)
AIHRC (25.11.2013)
RAWA (28.3.2012)
BBC News (6.9.2011)
UNAMA (11.9.2013) and Reliefweb (15.9.2013)
BBC (6.9.2011)
Humani Terra (2009)
Voice of Women Organization (2013)
University of Notre Dame (8.2012)
UNAMA (8.12.2013)
UNAMA (8.12.2013) and UNAMA (11.2011)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
Crisisgroup (14.10.2013) and OXFAM (10.9.2013)
OXFAM (10.9.2013)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
UN Women (11.2011) and International Development Law Organization (no date) (Hereinafter IDLO)
UN Women (11.2011)
IDLO (13.4.2011)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (25.5.2012) (Hereinafter UNICEF)
HRW (21.5.2013)
USDOS 19.4.2013
HRW (21.5.2013)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
Human Rights Watch (1.7.2014); HRW (21.5.2013) and Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (2.2.2013)
HRW (21.5.2013)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
USDOS 19.4.2013
Die Welt (20.6.2012); Women‘s UN Report Program & Network (21.6.2012) (Hereinafter WUNRN) and Aljazeera (18.5.2013)
USDOS 19.4.2013
Nordic Consulting Group (28.4.2011)
See e.g. UNAMA (8.12.2013)
Afghan Analyst Network (17.4.2012) (Hereinafter AAN) and Legal Aid Organization (2013)
MOJ (2013)
EUPOL Afghanistan (7.2012)
Justice for All Organization (2014) and Open Society Foundation (30.5.2013)
USAID (2013)
A coalition funded by the government, provides criminal defence counsel services in Logar and criminal defense counsel offices in Maidan, Herat, Wardak and Jalalabad, and has offices in Kabul, Heart, Kabul and Jalalabad consisting of 31 lawyers and were extending their services in 2007 to neighboring provinces
Source: UNAMA (8.12.2013) see also EUPOL Afghanistan (7.2012); UNAMA (2007)
Founded by the Norwegian Refugee Council the is operating since 2003 in Afghanistan with seven field locations, and Legal Assistance Centres (ILACs) in Kabul, Maimana, Mazar, Kunduz, Jalalabad, Bamiyan, and Herat; approximately 85 lawyers are employed by the ILAC. The NRC registered 2,375 legal cases and 3,200 information cases of which 750 and 1,495 were respectively solved. Approxi
mately 20 percent of cases were related to family, financial, and water rights issues amongst others. The NRC counts family, financial, and water rights issues under one aspect
Source: Nordic Consulting Group (28.4.2011)
Countrywide public defender organization was established in 2003 and has since then offered free criminal defense services to Afghanistan’s poor, and is considered to be a non-governmental organiza
tion; the organization has 5 offices in Afghanistan, Balkh, Kabul, Helmand, Herat and Nangarhar
Source: ILF (2011)
World Bank (5.2013)
WHO 5.2013
PLOS Medical (6.1.2014)
WB (2012)
World Health Organization (2013) (Hereinafter WHO)
WHO (2013) and WHO Secretariat Countdown to 2015 (5.2013)
World Health Organization (2013)
World Health Organization (5.2013)
United Nations Population Fund (2011)
UNFPA (6.2011)
United States Agency for International Development (19.09.2012) (Hereinafter USAID) and USAID (1.2013)
Jhpiego (2013)
This program is also worth mentioning, since in a strongly conservative country, this was their first time traveling for longer without a male companion, as it was for many of the midwives; USAID (25.9.2011)
United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (8.2013)
World Health Organization (8.12.2013):
Asia Foundation (18.9.2013) (Hereinafter AF)
AF (18.9.2013); according to a source as of February 2014, there were 68 female MPs in the Afghan parliament; Deutsche Welle (7.2.2014)
USDOS (19.4.2013); see also AF (18.9.2013)
Civil-Military Fusion Centre (2.2012)
NZZ (6.2.2014)
United Nations Statistics Division (1.7.2013)
United Nations Data (10.12.2013)
Open Democracy (14.10.2013)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
AF (18.9.2013)
USDOS (19.4.2013)
HRW (4.2.2014)
MEI (23.4.2012)
AREU (7.2013)
Middle East Institute (23.4.2012) (Hereinafter MEI)
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AF (18.9.2013)
Afghanistan Expert – working for an International Organization in Kabul (6.12.2013): Personal Inter
view. Via Skype.
AREU (9.2013)
Cordaid (11.2013)
AREU (9.2013)
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Cordaid (11.2013)
RAWA (2014)
Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice Volume 17, Issue 1 (2013)
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UNAMA (14.1.2014)
AIHRC (6.6.2002)
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Afghan Analyst Network (20.9.2013)
Afghan Analyst Network
Amnesty International
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission
Afghan National Police
ANSF Afghan National Security Forces
Congressional Research Service
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Human Rights Watch
International Development Law Organization
International Labour Organization
United States Institute for War and Peace
MoHRA Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs
Afghan Ministry of Justice
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for
Human Rights
Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan
United Nations Office for Drugs and Crimes
United Nations News Centre
United Nations Entity for gender equality and the
empowerment of women
United States Agency for International Development
United States Department of State
USIP United States Institute of Peace
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Migration from Afghanistan to Europe:
A Statistical Overview
Martin Hofmann & David Reichel
This chapter provides a quantitative analysis of migration flows from
Afghanistan to Europe from 2002 to 2012. The analysis uses available
migration statistics provided by Eurostat, UNHCR, OECD and national
statistical authorities and draws conclusions on basis of the data they
provide. It does not aim to provide underlying and more in-depth explanations
for the observed quantitative trends but tries to describe the main migration
patterns, to examine if and how Afghan migration to the EU has changed
over time, and to carefully assess whether major changes can be expected
in the future.
International migration and asylum statistics are not yet fully harmonised,
neither at the European nor the global level. Statistics on migration from
Afghanistan are not fully comprehensive or comparable, however, the
available data allows for identifying and describing the main quantitative
developments and trends. The analysis is restricted to countries and time
periods for which comparable data is available. Since data collection
practices have changed over time and – more importantly – vary from
country to country, there is no guarantee of full comparability of data.
However, many efforts have been made at the level of the European Union
in the past years significantly improving the quality of data in terms of
comprehensiveness and comparability. The available data allows for a basic
assessment of migration from Afghanistan to Europe. Taking into account
the still existing limitations in available migration statistics, it has to be
emphasised that the provided figures should be perceived as indicators for
certain trends and developments rather than giving a fully accurate analysis
of the situation in quantitative terms.
Taking into account its significance, the first section presents main trends
regarding flight migration and asylum seekers from Afghanistan, the related
quantitative developments, and the most important European destination
countries. The second section presents main trends regarding immigration
other than asylum, describes the main types of residence permits issued to
Afghan nationals, and discusses the issue of acquisition of citizenship. The
final section briefly outlines the main trends concerning irregular migration
and return.
The conflict in Afghanistan and its impact on migration from Afghanistan
to Europe
The beginning of the Afghanistan crisis in 1978 and the Soviet military
campaign in 1979 set in motion massive flight movements of Afghan
nationals to neighbouring countries and other regions of the world. It has
devastated the country not only in terms of armed conflict but also caused
social unrest, catastrophic economic prospects, major food shortages
and large-scale internal displacement; all of them affecting Afghans over
generations. Afghans represent the most important conflict diaspora on a
global scale and Afghanistan has remained the most important country of
origin of refugees for 32 consecutive years.
According to UNHCR estimates, a total of 2.6 million Afghans were
considered refugees living outside their home country in 2012; another
500,000 were estimated to be Internally Displaced Persons. At the same
time, UNHCR calculates that more than 5.7 million Afghans have returned to
their home country since 2002, mostly from the main host countries in the
region, Pakistan and Iran. Thus, the security situation in these countries and
economic prospects for the Afghan diaspora will continue to influence the
scale of return migration to Afghanistan but also the likelihood of Afghans
trying to move further abroad.1
Flight migration from Afghanistan
Migration from Afghanistan to Europe started following the onset of the
crisis in 1978/1979. From the beginning it had to be characterised as flight
migration more than anything else, with other types of migration being of only
minor importance. This pattern has remained until present, notwithstanding
the fact that - statistically speaking - other types of migration have gained
in importance over the years. There are considerable Afghan communities
registered in European Union Member States and the levels of immigration
(other than applications for asylum) have been rising, but as an analysis
of residence permits reveals, they mainly refer to family reasons, refugee
status and subsidiary protection. Residence permits issued on the grounds
of “education” or “remunerated activities“ are almost non-existent and it
can be assumed that family migration will mainly refer to family members of
recognised refugees.
Estimated refugee population
UNHCR estimates the global refugee population on an annual basis.
By the end of 2012 the global number of refugees was estimated at 10.5
million. With a total of 2.6 million almost 25% of these refugees originated
from Afghanistan, making it the most important country of origin of refugees
also in 2012, a rank it holds since more than 30 years. Almost 10% of the
total Afghan population are estimated to be refugees located outside their
home country. Somalia (1.1 million refugees), Iraq (746,200) and Syria
(647,000) follow suit as the most important countries of origin of refugees
Thus, flight migration from Afghanistan above all continues to be a
regional challenge. 95% of the Afghan refugees are hosted in Pakistan (app.
1.6 million or 61.5% of the overall Afghan refugee population) and Iran (app.
824,000 or 31.7%). Both host countries have been the main destinations
for Afghan refugees since the beginning of the exodus from the country in
1979. The Afghan refugee population is not static, according to UNHCR
more than 5.7 million Afghan refugees have returned to their home country
since 2002.
Important host countries outside the region are Germany with a total
of app. 31,700 Afghan refugees, the United Kingdom with a total of app.
14,425, India with a total of app. 9,200, Austria with a total of 8,600 and
Sweden with a total of app. 6,600. „Important“, however, is a relative term
in this context. The respective estimated share of host countries, other than
Pakistan and Iran, among the global Afghan refugee population is between
0.2% and 1.2%. Despite of the fact that Afghan citizens represented the
most important nationality of asylum seekers in the EU in 2012, it has to
be stated that the overwhelming majority of Afghan refugees stay in the
neighboring countries Pakistan and Iran and only a very small share of
them manage to reach Europe or other more distant destinations. The longterm patterns in Afghan flight migration – huge potential, large refugee
populations, concentration in the region with small international spill-over,
considerable return migration – together with the volatile security situation
in Afghanistan but also in the main receiving countries make it hard to
predict how the annual flows to Europe will develop in quantitative terms.
Based on the long-term trend it is not to be expected that the observed
migration patterns undergo fundamental changes. However and taking into
account the huge overall number of Afghan refugees, even a small change
in these patterns might have a significant impact on the numbers of Afghans
arriving in Europe.
Refugees from Afghanistan 20122
Asylum trends in the EU
For the year 2012 the UNHCR registered a total of 355,516 asylum
applications lodged in Europe, a total of 296,669 were lodged in countries
of the European Union (EU 27). When looking at applications in the EU,
Afghanistan was the most important country of origin (24,681 applications
or 8.3%), followed by Serbia (and Kosovo: S/RES/1244(1999) – 21,538
applications or 7.3%), Syria (21,427 applications or 7.2%), the Russian
Federation (19,823 applications or 6.9%), Pakistan (18,835 applications or
6.3%) and Somalia (12,475 applications or 4.2%).
The comparison of the total number of asylum applications lodged by
Afghan nationals in the European Union in the years 2002 and 2012 would
suggest a rather stable trend. For those EU Member States where annual
data is available for both years,3 the total number of applications showed
only a slight increase of 3.8%, from a total of 27,006 applications to a total
of 28,026 applications. The analysis of the annual developments within this
period, however, does not confirm such a stable trend. Between 2002 and
2005 application figures decreased significantly and reached their lowest
level in 2005 with a total of 6,830 applications. Since 2006 application
figures are on the rise again, with the most significant increases between
2007/2009 and 2010/2011. Thus, the total number of applications is still
significantly below the absolute peak of almost 51,000 applications in 2001.
In recent years, the EU has witnessed a constant increase of overall
asylum applications. Between 2008 and 2012 the annual application
figures have increased by 48.5% from a total of app. 226,000 to a total of
app. 336,000. Annual applications lodged by Afghan citizens have exceeded
this trend; they have more than doubled from a total of app. 13,300 to more
than 28,000. This also implied that the share of asylum applications lodged
by Afghan nationals among the total applications increased from 4.5% in
2008 to 8.3% in 2012.
Asylum applications lodged by Afghan citizens in the European Union between1980 and 20124
Main countries of destination in the EU
In 2012, Germany recorded the highest number of asylum applications
lodged by Afghan citizens in the European Union. With a total of 7,840
applications, the country received app. 28% of all Afghan asylum applications
in Europe for that year. Sweden was the second most important country
of destination (a total of 4,760 applications), followed by Austria (a total
of 4,015 applications), Belgium (a total of 3,290 applications), and the
Netherlands (a total of 1,620 applications). It is an often observed trend
that asylum applications lodged by citizens from a specific country of origin
in the EU focus on a small number of main destination countries and that
the share of these destination countries among the overall applications
increases over time. The available figures for Afghanistan confirm such a
trend. In 2012 app. 77% of all applications from Afghan citizens were lodged
in the five EU Member States Germany, Sweden, Austria, Belgium and
the Netherlands compared to a 69.7% concentration in top-five countries
in 2008. Contrary to other nationalities, however, there was a significant
change regarding the EU Member States with the highest application rates
during this period. In 2012, Germany received 8.5 times more applications
from Afghan citizens than in 2008, Sweden 5 times more, the figures for
Austria and Belgium doubled. Over the same period, the annual application
figures for the United Kingdom and Greece, the most important countries
of destination in 2008, decreased by app. 63% and app. 74% respectively.
Such shifts can be explained by a number of reasons ranging from statistical
inaccuracies to legal developments, changes in migration routes or a lack
of well-established migrant communities which could assist newcomers. A
mere look at the quantitative developments suggests that a typical migration
pattern of Afghan asylum seekers moving to specific destinations in the
EU cannot be identified over the medium- to long-term and that significant
shifts between them might also occur in the future.
Asylum applications lodged by Afghani citizens in main countries of destination in the EU 2006
- 2012
General characteristics of Afghan asylum seekers in the EU
A distinct feature among Afghan asylum seekers in the EU is the
comparatively high share of individuals considered to be “unaccompanied
minors”. In 2012 the share of unaccompanied minors among the total
of Afghan asylum seekers was at 19.2% (5,375 in total). This value is
significantly higher than the average 3.8% of unaccompanied minors
among all asylum seekers in Europe for this year. Since 2008 the share of
unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan on average has been 4 – 5 times
higher than for the overall applicants.5 Thus, one can speak of a general
trend that is likely to continue in the future and will pose specific challenges
to European asylum authorities in terms of reception and procedures.
Asylum seekers from Afghanistan are predominantly male; in 2012 their
share among the overall applications was at 76.0%, which is above the
general trend of 65.7% of all asylum applicants in the EU being men.6
Decisions on asylum applications lodged by Afghan asylum seekers
It is not possible to compare decisions on asylum cases or recognition
rates for certain nationalities between countries. First of all, statistics on
decisions do not refer to the years when the respective application was
lodged but to the year when a decision was made. Secondly, countries report
statistics depending on the standards of their own national systems. Some
countries report decisions on “new applications”, others on “first instance
decisions”, “first instance and appeal decisions” or “reopened applications”.
Consequently, available figures serve only as a rough indicator and allow
only for some very careful conclusions. Regarding decisions on asylum
applications of Afghan citizens in 2012 in the main receiving countries in the
EU, the rates of granting “convention status” or “complementary protection
status” ranged between 30.3% and 62.4%.7 There is obviously no direct
correlation between the chance of getting a status granted and annual
application figures, the countries with the largest inflows are not the ones
with the highest recognition rates. Notwithstanding - from a mere statistical
perspective - Afghan asylum seekers are granted protection status to a
considerable degree. In the context of the continued high annual application
numbers it is likely that the Afghan refugee population or number of Afghan
citizens with complementary protection status will further increase in the
Immigration stocks and populations
Unfortunately, data on Afghans in the European Union and its Member
States is not sufficient enough to thoroughly assess the overall size of the
Afghan population and to compare between countries. Main countries of
destination of Afghan asylum seekers have not reported their national
figures on stocks of Afghan populations to Eurostat. Moreover, the fact
that the majority of Afghan migrants to Europe are asylum seekers leads
to inconsistencies between the countries regarding the categories under
which they are counted (or not). However, when combining available data
from Eurostat, OECD and the UK Home Office an approximate picture of
the volume and distribution of Afghans in the EU can be given. The recent
and past main countries of destination of Afghan asylum seekers are also
the ones who report the largest Afghan populations. For 2012, Germany
and the United Kingdom report an Afghan population of app. 62,000 and
60,000 respectively. Clearly behind follow Sweden (app. 12,700 Afghan
citizens), Denmark (app 9,600), Austria (app. 8,500) and Belgium (app.
7,600). When aggregating all available data, the total size of the Afghan
population in the EU was at around 165,000 in 2012, implying a moderate
increase in comparison to a total of 146,000 in 2008 (plus 13.1%).8 Thus,
related Eurostat figures refer to the total stock of Afghan citizens in a given
year but do not take into account previous naturalisations. This implies
that the number of persons “born in Afghanistan” and residing in Europe
is in reality higher than the annual population figures would suggest. When
adding the app. 100,000 naturalisations of Afghan nationals in the EU since
2012, the total population of persons born in Afghanistan can be estimated
at app. 265,000.
Residence permits
The figures on annually issued residence permits and the respective
types provide for a more accurate picture on the size, distribution and
characteristics of Afghan migration to the European Union. According to the
data reported to Eurostat more than 90,000 residence permits issued to
Afghan citizens were valid at the end of 2012 in those EU Member States
where data was available.9 Most residence permits were issued in Germany
(app. 40,000 or 44.3%), followed by Sweden (app. 17,300 or 19.0%) and
the United Kingdom (app. 8,300 or 9.1%).10 Both the absolute numbers and
the types of permits granted support the hypothesis that migration from
Afghanistan to the European Union has to be considered flight migration
more than anything else. Regarding absolute numbers it is the main
“traditional” (United Kingdom) and “new” (Germany and Sweden) destination
countries of Afghan asylum seekers that have the highest figures. Together
they account for more than 72% of all residence permits granted to Afghan
citizens in 2012, at least when it comes to the figures reported to Eurostat.
Regarding the types of permits granted it becomes obvious that to a very
high proportion they are directly or indirectly linked to flight migration. 29.0%
of all residence permits for Afghan citizens were granted for “subsidiary
protection”, 16.2% for “refugee status”, and 29.9% for ”family reasons.” It
can be safely assumed that most permits for “family reasons” were granted
to family members of Afghan citizens with refugee or subsidiary protection
status. An interesting trend can be identified when looking at the types
of permits issued in the “traditional” and “new” destination countries of
Afghan asylum seekers. In 2012, the United Kingdom issued 66.1% of all
permits for “family reasons”, a value clearly above the EU average (29.9%)
and the values in Germany (25.6%) and Sweden (31.0%). Thus, the total
numbers were almost equal in the United Kingdom and Sweden (app. 5,000
permits for family reasons) but the United Kingdom issued significantly less
permits for protection reasons. The disproportionately high share of permits
for family reasons can be explained by the fact that the United Kingdom
was the main European destination country for Afghan asylum seekers in
the past. It can be assumed that many of the permits issued in the United
Kingdom in 2012 were issued to family members of Afghan applicants who
had been granted a protection status some years ago. It is also safe to
say that – against the background of comparatively high rates of granting
convention or complementary protection status – the main destination
countries of today will see similar developments in the future. Other reasons
for granting a residence permit to Afghan nationals are almost negligible,
“education” and “remunerated activities” account for only 1.3% and 1.0%
of all permits respectively.
Irregular migration
It is by definition not possible to precisely measure the scale of irregular
migration to Europe or the total number of irregular migrants residing on the
territory of European States. Related estimates are based on extrapolations
of other data sets like apprehensions at external borders or within the
territory of states, asylum statistics, regularisations or expulsions/leave
orders. These statistics refer to foreign nationals who do not - or no longer
- fulfil the legal conditions for entry to, presence in or residence on the
territory of a state. However, they do not provide information on the concrete
migration history or motivations of the individuals affected. Thus, they have
to be perceived as rather weak indicators for the real extent of irregular
migration from a specific country of origin.
The first statistical indicator on the extent of irregular migration from
Afghanistan to Europe is the number of Afghan nationals found to be illegally
present on the territory of an EU Member State. In 2012 this number was at
34,095, implying a decrease of more than 33% since 2008 (51,365). More
than 44% of illegally present Afghans were reported by Greece, 17,2% by
Germany.11 Closely linked to the numbers on illegally present third country
nationals is the second statistical indicator on orders to leave the country
issued by EU Member States on an annual basis (leave orders). In 2012,
a total of 26,680 leave orders were issued to Afghan citizens in the EU.
This represented a share of 5.6% among all leave orders that were issued
to foreign citizens in that year. Between 2008 and 2012 there has been a
significant decrease in annual leave orders by minus 77% (a total of 29,950
leave orders in 2008). Again, the picture is heavily influenced by the number
of leave orders issued in Greece. In 2012, with a total of 16.230 leave orders
Greece issued more than 60% of all leave orders concerning Afghan citizens
for that year. Without the Greek figure and in view of the high levels of asylum
applications, the overall number of leave orders concerning Afghan citizens
is remarkably low. In the main countries of destination of Afghan asylum
seekers like Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom or Austria, the numbers
for 2012 ranged between 400 and 1,000.12
The actual return rate for Afghan citizens, i.e. the number of officially
recorded returns of Afghan citizens under a leave order in a given year
underwent significant changes in the period between 2008 and 2012. In
2008 it stood at a modest 4.8% (1,910 recorded returns in comparison
to 39,950 leave orders). In 2012 the return rate had increased to 21.6%
(5,775 recorded returns in comparison to 26,680 leave orders).13 As the
officially recorded number of returns almost exclusively include forced
returns,14 and do not provide information on voluntary returns which have
not been officially recorded by the authorities, they have to be treated with
some caution. The number of actual returns to Afghanistan is definitely
higher than what is officially recorded. In fact, the recorded figures indicate
a clear trend towards significantly increased returns to Afghanistan from
Europe in the years after 2012.
The numbers of rejections at the EU external border concerning citizens
from Afghanistan move at rather modest levels. In the years 2008 to 2012
a total of 2,265 Afghan citizens were refused entry at an external border of
the European Union, the annual refusals were between 300 and 585. App.
88% of the rejected did not hold valid travel documents, visa or residence
permits, the remaining 12% were refused entry upon grounds of false travel
documents, visa or residence permits. Most refusals were made at the
external borders of Italy, France and the UK.15
In the case of Afghan migration to Europe, the available indicators are
strongly related to the fact that the majority of Afghan migrants apply
for asylum. Rejections at the border are comparatively low and the – in
comparison – high numbers of leave orders indicate that they mainly refer
to rejected asylum seekers or individuals with unauthorised residence.
The geographical distribution of illegally present persons from Afghanistan
and persons under a leave order indicate that in recent years Greece was
the main entry point for Afghan migrants and asylum seekers to the EU,
regardless of the fact that most of the actual asylum applications were
lodged in other EU Member States.
Acquisitions of citizenship
Since 2002, a total of 103,861 naturalisations of Afghan citizens have
been reported in 22 EU Member States. The two most important EU Member
States in terms of acquisition of citizenship were the United Kingdom
(44,373 naturalisations or 42.7%) and Germany (35,101 naturalisations
or 33.8%). Together they accounted for 76.5% of all naturalisations of
Afghan citizens between 2002 and 2012. The overall annual numbers of
acquisitions of citizenship have moved along rather stable trends, 2007
formed an exception with a peak of 15,699 naturalisations. This number was
a single event though and mainly a result of an exceptionally high number
of naturalisations in the United Kingdom in that year.16 For all other years
it can be stated that the steady numbers of naturalisations follow asylum
application trends and trends in decisions on applications. After some time,
recognised refugees acquire the citizenship of their country of residence.
Migration from Afghanistan to Europe is mainly to be characterized as
flight migration. It started following the onset of the crisis in 1978/1979 and
the overall migration pattern has never really changed. The factors shaping
Afghan flight migration – the large numbers, the concentration in the region,
the comparatively limited movements to more distant destinations and the
considerable return migration – have also not undergone fundamental
changes. As the security situation in Afghanistan continues to be volatile
and the impact of developments in 2014 cannot yet be fully assessed, it is
hard to predict how asylum application figures in the EU will develop in the
future. But it is safe to say that EU Member States should be prepared for
continued or even increasing numbers of Afghan refugees.
In 2012, Germany recorded the majority of asylum applications lodged
by Afghan citizens in the European Union, followed by Sweden, Austria,
Belgium and the Netherlands. There had been a shift since 2008 regarding
the main countries of destination away from the United Kingdom and
Greece to the afore-mentioned. Such a shift as confirmed by available
statistics for the past might occur again in the future. A distinct feature
among Afghan asylum seekers in the EU is the comparatively high share of
individuals considered to be “unaccompanied minors”. It can be assumed
that this trend will continue and entail specific challenges for European
asylum authorities in terms of reception and procedures. Finally, since a
considerable percentage of Afghan nationals are granted convention status
or a complementary protection status and settle down permanently in an
EU Member State, follow-up migration due to family reunification will play an
important role in the future as well.
Martin Hofmann is a Programme Manager in the Competence Centre for
Legal Migration & Integration at the International Centre for Migration
Policy Development (ICMPD).
David Reichel is a Research Officer at the International Centre for Migration
Policy Development (ICMPD).
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2012 : Trends in
Displacement, Protection and Solutions, 10 December 2013, available at http://www.unhcr.
org/52a7213b9.html [accessed 10 January 2014], p. 30
UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2012, p. 106
AT, BE, BG, CY, CZ, DE, DK, EE, EL, ES, FI, FR, HU, IE, IT, LT, LU (no data available for 2002), LV, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SE, SI, SK, UK.
Own calculations based on data from Eurostat database, table “Asylum and new asylum applicants by
citizenship, age and sex Annual aggregated data (rounded) [migr_asyappctza]” (data extracted in January 2014)
Own calculations based on data from Eurostat database, table “Asylum applicants considered to be unaccompanied minors by citizenship, age and sex Annual data (rounded) [migr_asyunaa]” (data extracted in January 2014)
Own calculations based on data from Eurostat database, table “Asylum and new asylum applicants by
citizenship, age and sex Annual aggregated data (rounded) [migr_asyappctza]” (data extracted in January 2014)
UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2012, p. 106
Own calculations based on data from Eurostat database, table “Immigration by sex, age group and citizenship [migr_imm1ctz]”, OECD International Migration Database, table “Stock of foreign
population by nationality”, UK Office for National Statistics, Datasets and reference tables, table “Estimated population resident in the United Kingdom, by country of birth” (data extracted in January 2014)
Own calculations based on data from Eurostat database, table “All valid permits by reason, length of validity and citizenship on 31 December of each year [migr_resvalid]“ (data extracted in January 2014)
Own calculations based on data from Eurostat database, table “Third country nationals found to be illegally present - annual data (rounded) [migr_eipre]” (data extracted in January 2014)
Own calculations based on data from Eurostat database, table “Third country nationals ordered to leave - annual data (rounded) [migr_eiord]” (data extracted in January 2014)
Own calculations based on data from Eurostat database, table “Third country nationals returned following an order to leave - annual data (rounded) [migr_eirtn]” (data extracted in January 2014)
Eurostat metadata “Third country nationals returned following an order to leave”: Third country
nationals who have in fact left the territory of the Member State, following an administrative or judicial decision or act stating that their stay is illegal and imposing an obligation to leave the
territory (see Art. 7.1 (b) of the Council Regulation (EC) no 862/2007). On a voluntary basis Member States provide Eurostat with a subcategory which relates to third country nationals returned to a third
country only. Persons who left the territory within the year may have been subject to an obligation to leave in a previous year. As such, the number of persons who actually left the territory may be greater than those who were subject to an obligation to leave in the same year. These statistics include forced
returns and assisted voluntary returns. Unassisted voluntary returns are included where these are reliably recorded. Data do not include persons who are transferred from one Member State to another under the mechanism established by the Dublin Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No 343/2003 and (EC) No 1560/2003, for these cases see related Dublin Statistics). Statistics on enforcement of immigration legislation are based entirely on administrative sources. Member States compile data in compliance with the Council Regulation (EC) 862/2007 and following guidelines and
instructions provided by Eurostat. Before publishing the data, consistent validation checks are performed. Certain differences in definitions and practices of producing statistics exist between
countries. Compliance with the Regulation requirements ensures a sufficient level of accuracy and comparability, accessed in May 2013 at
Own calculations based on data from Eurostat database, table “Third country nationals refused entry at the external borders - annual data (rounded) [migr_eirfs] (data extracted in January 2014)
Own calculations based on data from Eurostat database, table “Acquisition of citizenship by sex, age group and former citizenship [migr_acq]” (data extracted in January 2014)
Maps of Afghanistan
Michael Izady
By Dr. Michael Izady at
By Dr. Michael Izady at
By Dr. Michael Izady at
By Dr. Michael Izady at
regiones et res publicae - Country Analysis Reports
Security, Minorities & Migration
2014 and beyond
ISBN 978-3-9503643-1-6
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