2014 Looms Large for Afghanistan

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2014 Looms Large for Afghanistan

Sanjay Kumar discovers that fear and uncertainty about the future seem to be driving some disturbing trends in Afghanistan.

It’s Abdur Rahman’s second visit to property dealer Ali Razak in the past week. Rahman is desperate to sell his home in the upscale Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul.

Rahman wants to leave the country – and he’s far from alone. Like many residents of the Afghan capital, Rahman is worried about what will happen when international troops withdraw in 2014. Many locals are now looking to sell their properties and take their chances overseas.

“I don’t see any future for myself in this country,” Rahman says. “The kind of life I want I just can’t find in Afghanistan. There’s so much uncertainty. My past fears are coming back to haunt me.”

Razak claims that such views are increasingly common, showing his client register which has the names of at least 60 people looking to sell their homes.

“In the last year I’ve been flooded with requests from people wanting to sell their properties. Some have already done so, but there are many more in the queue,” Razak says. “Even if we find someone willing to buy these homes, no one is willing to pay a reasonable amount. The price of property has fallen a lot in the past year.”

The Wazir Akbar Khan area, home of numerous embassies and other foreign offices, hasn’t been immune to the slump, with rents in this sought-after area slumping between 30 percent and 40 percent, according to one agent I spoke with.

“Houses are empty. The money isn’t coming now,” says a friend of Rahman’s who is helping him sell his home. “Right now, the rent is going down. People don’t have any hope. Those who can afford to leave the country are leaving.”

The uncertainty has been particularly pronounced among Kabul’s women, who fear the return of the hard-line Taliban.

Huma Weis, a 26-year-old IT professional working with a private university in Kabul, says she has started exploring her options for leaving the country. I meet her in Kabul’s Serena Hotel, where she says she has come to meet an American contact who says he may have a job for her at an U.S.-based NGO.

“I don’t want to see the same situation again. I don’t want to have to stay at home all day and wear a burqa whenever I step out,” Weis says. “My family had to go into exile in Pakistan when the Taliban made life difficult for us before. I don’t want to surrender my liberty to the Taliban again.”

Such views are echoed by Humaira Rasuli, director of Medica Afghanistan which has been working to improve the situation for women in Afghanistan since 2002.

“Back in 2002, we only had about 5,000 women going to school, but now have about 2.3 million girls doing so,” she says. Meanwhile, Afghan women not only vote, but have entered the parliament. In addition, Rasuli notes, there has been a general improvement for women in the education field and political participation.

Yet this progress could be undone, and the achievements of the past decade washed away if the international community doesn’t help Afghans lock these gains in, says Rasuli, who adds that she is opposed to any kind of reconciliation with the Taliban.

Afghanistan’s mainstream media appears to agree.

“The already weak administration will go weaker,” the Daily Outlook Afghanistan argued in an editorial last month. “Here is where the Taliban will have more space to intensify and expand their activities. Once the security [grows] more deteriorated, it would be difficult for the world to continue their aids to Afghanistan. So, a bleak future is waiting for the Afghan people.”

“At the same time,” the editorial continued, “those who had set their eyes on the peace and reconciliation process and hoped that the process would bring Taliban to the negotiation table … must have realized by now that Taliban are not friends of Afghans and their peace and prosperity. The Taliban have been utilizing the negotiation process, as a tool, for reaching their own objectives.”

Still, not everyone is so gloomy. Omar Sharifi, director of the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies, says that the situation “isn’t that alarming.”

“Afghanistan isn’t going to relapse into a pre-2001 situation,” he says, adding that some concerns among certain sections can be addressed if the security situation improves.

Fawzia Kofi, a firebrand parliamentarian (and a woman), agrees that Afghanistan won’t slide back to what it was pre-2001. “Women, human rights activists, civil society and the political opposition will strongly resist a Talibanized government,” she says. “The Taliban won’t be as strong as they were in 1996 unless the government imposes the Taliban on us.”

But such optimism is of little comfort to Adil, who says he works at the German camp in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. Working with the German troops as an interpreter and local guide since 2008, Adil says he and his family dread the prospect of being singled out by the Taliban for working with international forces once the withdrawal is complete.

“People in the area know that I work with international troops. Once they leave the country me and my family will be singled out by the Taliban for working with the enemy,” he says. “I can’t live in Afghanistan after 2014. I’m requesting the Germans to take us to Germany so that my life can be safe.”

Many Afghans, like Adil, work at Camp Marmal, the largest military base in northern Afghanistan where hundreds of locals have worked in recent years. Afghans employed here face not only unemployment once international troops leave, but also the prospect of being targeted by militants.

“The fluid political situation isn’t giving much hope to the people,” says Shapoor Siddiqi, a local journalist in Mazar, who says his family was the victim of Taliban brutality before the government fell.

Kabul-based political analyst Dilawar Sherzai agrees. “There are many issues that remain unresolved and all of these issues have the capacity to turn big and invite instability and disorder,” Sherzai says.

“The security concerns, the reconciliation process, the shaky political setup, the issues of poor governance and corruption and the problems with economic infrastructure – they just seem to swing between bad and worse.”