Afghanistan served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires until it won its independence from the British in 1919. A brief experiment in democracy ended in a 1973 coup and a 1978 communist counter-coup. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war.
The USSR withdrew in 1989 under pressure from internationally supported anti-communist rebels. A series of subsequent civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline movement that emerged in 1994.
Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, US, Allied, and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance forces toppled the Taliban for sheltering Osama Bin Laden. The UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution, a presidential election in 2004, and National Assembly elections in 2005.
In December 2004, Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan and the National Assembly was inaugurated the following December. President Karzai was re-elected in August 2009 for a second term.
In 2014, UNDP’s ELECT II project contributed towards the peaceful and historic transition of power from President Hamid Karzai to a National Unity Government, with Ashraf Ghani as President and Abdullah Abdullah as Chief Executive Officer.
More than 30 years of war, tension, and insurgent violence have left a heavy toll on Afghanistan's institutions and its way of life. According UNDP’s Human Development Report 2015, Afghanistan ranks 171st out of 188 countries surveyed. Factoring into this low score are endemic challenges of poverty (36%), low participation of women in the national workforce, a high dropout rate for children and inadequate healthcare.
Despite some progress, human security remains Afghanistan's major challenge. Some districts remain inaccessible due to continuing anti‐government activity. Other areas of the country have also experienced a deterioration in the security situation, and 2015 saw the highest number of civilian casualties since the UN started keeping records. Likewise, law and order has been a national challenge, with high-turnover rates, lack of professionalism, and a decreasing presence of international security forces.
Afghanistan faces an uncertain economic outlook. Growth has slowed considerably and unemployment is on the rise. Ongoing insecurity hampers investment and encourages many of the most productive and well educated citizens to migrate.
The World Bank estimates that growth in 2016 will be below 2% percent and will remain low in the medium term. Declining levels of international support have reduced demand and contributed to deflation, which is likely to exacerbate an unemployment rate already at 40 percent.
Women still face widespread discrimination and human rights abuses. Most girls remain out of school, women are largely restricted to low-paid, unregulated employment, harassment is widespread, political participation is limited, and women face numerous obstacles to getting fair treatment from the justice system.
In addition, women are often shut out from effective and gender-responsive healthcare – particularly in rural areas, where a lack of facilities and trained female healthcare providers remains a serious barrier improving health outcomes.
Access to justice remains limited, particularly for the poor, those in isolated areas and women. There is only one lawyer for every 11,000 people and a need for greater capacity among legal professionals and relevant government institutions. Legislation is often contradictory or fails to comply with international best practices and Afghanistan’s international obligations. Awareness of human rights and legal procedures is low and compounded by high rates of illiteracy.
As a result, 80% of disputes are settled by traditional justice bodies, whose verdicts sometimes conflict with human rights standards.
Afghanistan is among those countries most threated by climate change. Despite an abundance of renewable energy possibilities, including wind, water, solar and biomass, inadequate technology, policy and management capacity mean they are not being properly exploited. Forest coverage has been decimated, very little land is available for farming, and environmental degradation and poor management of natural resources have left a legacy of pollution and public health issues.
In 2001, the police force was practically non-existent. Now, UNDP’s LOTFA project ensures timely and accurate payment for more than 150,000 Afghan National Police and Central Prisons Directorate staff. UNDP is also working with the MOIA to build capacity for the ministry to take over this payroll system, improve adherence to human rights, reduce corruption and transition the police from a counter insurgency to a civilian force that protects and earns the trust of communities.
In a recent UNDP-sponsored survey, 76 percent of Afghans said they were in favor of having female police officers in their community. UNDP is working with the Ministry of Interior Affairs to train more female recruits and to improve working conditions so that female officers rise to higher ranks and are accepted and respected by their peers. We are strengthening complaints mechanisms and creating the country’s first ever formal forum for police women to share and raise their concerns. This network of more than 70 Police Women Councils now operates in every single province.
UNDP’s Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme has become an integral part of the government’s vision for peace and reconciliation. Nearly 10,000 former combatants have renounced violence, including local commanders and leaders, and former combatants have received livelihood support through transitional financial assistance.
With technical assistance provided by UNDP’s ELECT II project, 2014 saw Afghanistan’s first-ever fully Afghan owned and led elections. UNDP stands ready to assist the government in parliamentary and district elections when they take place.
In local governance, UNDP and the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) have been working together to improve subnational governance structures since the IDLG’s inception. These structures have come to include 34 provinces incorporating over 300 districts, an elected Provincial Council for each province and some 150 municipalities. In 2010, ASGP incorporated a strong provincial focus and built capacity for governors’ offices, Provincial Councils and municipal service delivery, as well as supporting women’s participation at higher levels of local and national governance.
UNDP has stablished a web-based online database management system that will enable the Ministry of Women’s affairs to better monitor progress against targets set out in the National Action Plan for Women’s Affairs. In partnership with Kabul University, we have also helped establish Afghanistan’s first ever Master’s in Gender and Women’s Studies. This is a groundbreaking programme that will assist increasing numbers of women to play a leading role in shaping policy and changing the academic and political makeup of Afghanistan’s future.
UNDP has also worked across the country to develop and support women entrepreneurs to form cooperative and associations, to improve their production and business skills and to successfully market their products.
To increase access to legal representation, UNDP has established two legal centres that train and place young lawyers, and we support a Legal Aid Grant Facility that provides free legal assistance to women, children and the poorest men. We have also supported the establishment of a special court where trained justice personnel deal with cases of violence against women in line with the Elimination of Violence Against Women law.
To combat abuses against street vendors, UNDP has assisted in amending relevant laws and producing a draft policy paper on street vendors – a key step toward a formal national policy. We have also supported associations where vendors can come together to discuss problems and raise concerns with local authorities.
As Afghanistan has become a party to the Secretary General’s Initiative on Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), UNDP has mobilized a team to carry out Rapid Assessment and Gap Analysis on sustainable energy development, which will help the government in mobilizing resources in this area.
Access to electricity has risen to about 30 percent, thanks to an increase in imported electricity and the construction of micro hydroelectric and solar panel stations. UNDP has funded the construction of 19 micro hydroelectric power plants in Bamyan province. The plants are currently generating a cumulative 274 kilowatts of electricity that is powering 2,658 households, benefiting more than 18,606 people.
Our new ASERD project plans to be bring clean energy to a further 50,000 households by introducing innovative financing and delivery methods, and, with funding from the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme, we continue to expand solar and wind power to rural communicates, using simple technology that can be maintained by local people.
The Small Grants Programme has also played a key role in enhancing understanding of CSOs on sustainable development issues. Nearly 40 CSOs have been awarded grants for projects in the areas of sustainable land management, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation for the first time in Afghanistan.
In 2015, UNDP was chosen as the principal co-recipient of four Global Fund grants: in HIV, TB, malaria and health systems strengthening. Our work has only just begun, but we are already training community nurses in six provinces, have procured 2 million bednets for distribution in malarial areas and have initiated gene-based diagnostic treatment for suspected TB patients in Kabul.