Following the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York, US, Allied and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action brought Afghanistan to global attention. The 2001 UN-sponsored Bonn Conference outlined a process for political reconstruction that included a new constitution, and leadership elections in 2004 and 2005 and Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan. Despite some progress toward a stable central government, a Taliban resistance and continuing provincial instability remain serious challenges for the war-torn and impoverished nation.
Afghanistan has been the grounds for conflict for decades. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded the country to support the weakened Afghan Communist regime but withdrew in 1989, and the international community turned their attention away from the ongoing raging civil conflict.
By the end of 1998, the Taliban, a militant group that had risen to power in the mid-1990s with the anarchy that ensued after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces, occupied about 90% of the country. After the Taliban’s refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden, the US initiated aerial attacks in October 2001, assisting opposition groups to drive them from power.
Afghanistan is extremely poor, closed in, and highly dependent on foreign aid and trade with neighboring countries. Much of the population continues to suffer from shortages of basic needs such as housing, clean water, electricity, medical care and employment. Afghanistan’s standard of life is currently among the lowest in the world. While the international community remains committed to Afghanistan’s development, pledging over $57 billion at three donors’ conferences since 2002, it will need to overcome a number of challenges.
Large-scale poppy cultivation for an expanding opium trade generates approximately $3 billion US in illicit economic activity and is one of Afghanistan’s most serious policy concerns. Other long-term challenges include: budget sustainability, job creation, corruption, government capacity, and rebuilding war torn infrastructure. Meanwhile, Islamic religious tradition and codes, together with traditional tribal and ethnic practices, have an important role in personal conduct and dispute settlement.