Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Afghanistan - the tale of two Kabuls

Afghanistan’s capital city has experienced a financial and development boom over the past decade, growing in population from 1.5 to 5 million people while gleaming new malls and apartment complexes have sprung up. 70 percent of new high-rise buildings in the capital are illegal and built without regard to local laws or regulations by powerful individuals known as the "land mafia". But these bastions of the rich are offset by the sharp contrast of crowded shanty towns and squatter settlements where dwell the other Kabul - the downtrodden and oppressed living in squalor, representing an inequality gap that is grossly widening by the day.

The billions pumped into Afghanistan accounting for its double-digit growth have been consolidated into the hands of a few - the societal and political elite. Meanwhile, the rest of the Afghans suffer from unemployment that still hovers around 40%. 36% of the population still lives below the poverty line with over 5 million people trying to survive on $43 a month.

The foreign aid-inspired GDP growth ( an estimated 97% of GDP is derived from spending related to the international military and donor community presence) has been "hijacked by oligarchs" Sayed Masoud, an economics lecturer at Kabul University said "Social unrest, violence and rebellion against the state are the most likely outcomes in a society where a majority of people live in extreme poverty but small elite groups thrive in affluence." He added that social justice was a prerequisite for peace-making in war-torn Afghanistan.

According to a 2010 UN report: "Unprecedented resource flows have created a new cast of rich and powerful individuals who operate outside the traditional power/tribal structures and bid the cost of favors and loyalty to levels not compatible with the under-developed nature of the country." Afghanistan was rated as the second most corrupt country in 2010 by Transparency International, and the trend is getting worse.

It is hardly surprising that many soldiers should begin to ask why they are there and what the end will be for it all.

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