Nearly a year since former political rivals Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah promised to address voter's economic and security concerns, Afghanistan remains in a state of flux and the public's confidence in the
Victims' families transport the body of one of 12 Ghazni civilians killed by an April 10 roadside bomb explosion in Khugiyani district.
As the NATO International Security Assistance Force minimize its presence in Afghanistan, local forces have struggled to suppress the Taliban's seasonal attacks in the nation's restive south and an increasingly belligerent insurgency in strategic northern provinces. The precarious balance of power in the new government, in which President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah preside over an equal share of ministries, impedes decision-making in Kabul.
Seven months after the Ghani and Abdullah came into power, the crucial post of defense minister remains vacant as the two political camps vie for influence. Compounded with reports of an Islamic State (IS) presence in the country and kidnappings targeting ethnic Hazaras, these developments have raised local fears that the new government lacks the capacity to prevent further chaos.
Ahead of last year's election, Abdullah promised residents in Ghazni that the highways leading to their province would be safe from explosions and armed attacks. He added that the provincial capital, which was named the Asian Capital of Islamic Culture and Civilization last year, would become a model for other Afghan cities. But after surviving a chain of Taliban attacks that has slowed business and left the province vulnerable to further insurgency, Ghazni resident Asif Husseini recalls Abdullah's pledges with a note of bitterness. “The national unity government has basically increased disunity amongst the people of Afghanistan and escalated the violence,” he says.
West of Ghazni, the province of Zabul has also witnessed a slate of attacks since the start of the Taliban's annual spring offensive. “The government...is on the verge of collapse,” says Sharif Fakory, a local anthropologist. He blames the leadership in Kabul for the insecurity, adding that anti-government elements exploit rifts within the unity government to extend their control over country. “If the government is unable to complete its Cabinet appointments and lay out a clear plan to counter the Taliban and ISIS, the countdown toward collapse has started.”
Abdul Wadood Paymaan, the parliamentary representative for the northern province of Kunduz, attributes the surge of attacks by the Taliban since the start of the year to the government's ongoing peace talks with the militants. "The armed forces of Afghanistan are on standby and don’t have permission to attack the Taliban," he told Afghanistan Today. “Due to the leniency the government is showing, the Taliban have intensified their kidnappings and attacks and are seeking to drag the south and the north of Afghanistan into conflict."
Ahmad Saeedi, a political analyst, says the increase in violence is part of a region-wide strategy forged by networks of militants in Central Asia. The fall of strategic districts in Badakhshan, Kunduz or other provinces of the North can pave the way for increased instability. Railways linking northern Afghanistan to Uzbekistan and other energy transport routes in Central Asia are central to the militants' efforts to destabilize the North, and eventually, the center of the country.
The northern provinces act as the country's economic artery of the country, Saeedi adds. With its destabilization, the unity government will face crisis and collapse. Already, the government in Kabul has failed to contain the war in the south and allowed it to spill to the north, he warns.
Addressing the country's senators on May 5, Afghanistan's national security advisor Hanif Atmar listed the terrorist groups keen on destabilizing the north: "The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) wants to reach China from the North, Jamaat Ansarullah is vying to reach Tajikistan, The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is looking to reach the central Asian states and Lashkar-e-Taiba is working on reaching Kashmir via Noristan and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan.”
Food on their tables
When factories and developmental projects came to a standstill as presidential candidates disputed last year's election result, both of the country's current leaders promised to increase employment and end the abject poverty of millions of Afghans. Abdullah promised to bringing more food to the table of each family, while Ghani unveiled plans to turn Afghanistan into an economic hub in Central Asia. Instead, thousands more have lost their jobs.
In Herat, the economic hub of west Afghanistan, 200 of the province's 470 factories have closed since the election and over 40,000 workers have lost their jobs, says Herat Industrialists Association Chairman Hameedullah Khadim. He lists the lack of a comprehensive border policy with Iran and Uzbekistan and the increase of instability as the main reasons for the closures.
Ali Eftekhari, spokesman for the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled confirmed that unemployment has increased on a nationwide level since the election. Two million people are unemployed, and hundreds of others have joined this unemployment list in the past few months, he told Afghanistan Today.
Abdullah Wafa, a Ghazni resident with a geology degree from Kabul University, lost his job on a development project in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. He and 10 others were laid off when the project funding dried up due budgeting issues caused by the last year's electoral crisis. “I voted in the elections hoping that things would start to get better, security would improve and I would have employment," he says, adding that the months of delaying the drafting of a state budget have lowered his chances of finding work in the near future.
“Rifts between [Abdullah and Ghani] mean that Afghanistan lacks a sound strategy for economic growth," says Sayad Masood, a lecturer in economics at Kabul University. "They are not on the same page in regard to [security], pushing the country towards further anarchy. Factories and businesses are closing down and unemployment is at its peak. Even those who've had job for years are now unemployed.”