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What Billions of Dollars Has Got Afghanistan
There is more new than old in much of Afghanistan today. A visitor sees it everywhere if they were there in 2001-3. If it is a first time visit, since they cannot compare, they will leave with what is the usual opinion:
- The country is a lost cause
- Nothing seems modern or changed
- The society is backwards and thankless for what America and others have done
- There is no reason for outsiders to be involved in this corrupt country
What those visitors don't know is what it was like in 2001-3 or before, when the Taliban were its rulers with ruthless concern. But, Afghanistan, despite its reputation today is a vastly improved young democracy still trying to get on its feet. They need the crutches of the international community.
In 2001, 900,000 kids went to school-all of them boys. No girls allowed. Today, eight million kids go to school and of them, 2.6 million are girls. Aspiring girls who want to be doctors, nurses, leaders. Then, the country only had 450 health facilities, now it has 1800.
Afghanistan is young. Its 35 million population has a median age of 17, 60% are under 20. When this generation comes to power, they will be more educated and prone to more Western thinking. The literacy rate is 33% now, and 60% by 2025.
The city of Kabul is the center of the country's modernization and by 2025, seven million will there in an urban environment, which will force many to lose and change their culture, what they are subject to and many will lose their old tribal ways of life. In ten years, electricity access has increased 18%. what is more incredible is that in 2002, only 32 miles of paved road existed in the country! Today, there is over 7500 miles. The country has three international airports: Kabul, Kandahar and Herat. Most fly to Dubai. Tourists arrive from many Arab countries totaling 400,000 a year.
The people are connected with 20 million having cell phones, 60% have TV and nearly everyone listens to the radio. This may not sound like much but in 2001, the country had only 10,000 telephone lines and no other electronic media. All this media has changed its culture and how they view the rest of the world, they are no longer isolated.
As for the Taliban, despite what many think, most Afghans despise them and only appear to like them because of coercion. Recent polls show that less than 10% like them. In the heart of Taliban country, Kandahar, less than 30% want them around. They will always be around, the diehards of a former time and culture that is no longer proper in a modern world where people are free. There will be terrorist attacks to prove that they are around, but their political sway will be minimal.
Corruption and drug money is the Achilles heel of this coming of age country. If they fail to get it under control, there will be urban centers where is is safe and in the outlying areas, a "wild west".