Years ago, old and young intertwined through the streets of the capital city of Kabul.
Modern government buildings reflected the morning sunlight while the ancient mosques soaked it in.
The tried and true camel hauled supplies down the street, weaving around diesel pick-up trucks.
Fighter jets and bombers sat idle at the air force base, like sentries guarding the distant mountainscape.
Women wore skirts and got an education, and boys and girls attended classes.
In 1959, the President of the United States, then Dwight D. Eisenhower, visited Kabul while riding through crowded streets, mostly unprotected.
People had jobs, were free to start a business, and there wasn’t an overwhelming fear of violence.
Yes, this was Afghanistan.
But what happened?
What Happened? A Rough Overview
If you’re under 40, you might assume Afghanistan was always a poor, war-torn country and question the options to rebuild Afghanistan.
Can’t blame you.
But believe it or not, Kabul was known as the “Paris of Central Asia” before the 1980s.
So how did the country transform into the state we see today?
During the 1960s, Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah advocated modernizing the country, equal rights, and women’s education.
But Afghan Army General Daoud Khan didn’t care for how Zahir ruled, so he planned a rebellion.
In 1973, Daoud Khan led a non-violent coup with his team of loyalists, installing himself as president.
As time went on, the tables turned, as many Afghans didn’t support Daoud’s policies.
To combat this, Daoud restricted civil rights to quell the resistance.
These regulations caused yet another coup, a violent one this time, to overthrow Daoud.
In 1978, communist sympathizer Nur Mohammad Taraki staged an attack killing Daoud.
This new regime, strongly backed by the Soviet Union, pushed for more socialist changes such as increased taxes and changes to property ownership.
Tension grew, and in 1979, doctors, lawyers, and farmers traded their stethoscopes, briefcases, and plows for arms.
An insurgency was born, known as the Mujahideen, which translates to “those that engage in a holy war.”
The Mujahedeen proved to be a fierce enemy, and in 1979 the Soviet Union sent troops in to suppress the rebellion.
Russian troops had the upper hand in weaponry and an overwhelming troop presence, controlling the cities and main roads. Where the Mujahedeen fell short in supplies and personnel, they made up for it in strategy.
The rebels knew the mountains like the back of their hand and used them to launch quick and effective attacks against the Russians.
But the Soviets began to gain momentum by introducing heavily armored assault helicopters that could withstand the small arms fire by the insurgents.
Yet when the Americans supplied the Mujahedeen with Stinger missiles, the tide turned as the shoulder-mounted weapons took down the Soviet helicopters with ease.
After the Soviets reached an agreement with the US to withdraw forces in 1988, the Soviets left Afghanistan after brutal losses on both sides.
The Mujahedeen drove out the communist government and created their own with the Russians gone.
Although the rebels succeeded, they had new problems as the new leadership had differing political ideas, which sparked new conflict.
The pressure turned to violence and led to civil war.
The victors who took control of the capital were the Taliban (The Students).
And in 1996, the Taliban implemented extreme Islamic law. For example, women would no longer go to school, and execution became a standard punishment for mild offenses.
After 9/11, the United States demanded the Taliban turn over Osama bin Laden, and they refused, and war began.
US Special Forces then teamed up with the Northern Alliance against the hostile insurgency.
Since then, US and coalition forces have fought to secure and rebuild Afghanistan.
A Fight to Rebuild
Next to violence, poverty, and a declining economy, a significant concern with the war in Afghanistan is the support cost.
Most foreign aid supplied to Afghanistan comes in bilateral, military, and humanitarian assistance.
Not all military operations are combat-related, but US troops regularly conduct missions alongside the Afghan security forces.
Along with fighting, some American units deploy exclusively to train the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
Support units such as engineers and explosive ordnance disposal also help with infrastructure needs. For example, building schools and hospitals and improving roads are typical military-supported operations.
These missions require high levels of security while hostile forces seek to interrupt progress. Since 2001, the US has spent $25 billion on security alone.
These funds probably assisted people in one way or another. But it’s unlikely that fund distribution was fair as corruption has been a significant issue in government leadership.
According to the 2020 International Transparency Corruption Perception index, Afghanistan ranks 165 out of 180.
Humanitarian assistance offers funding and infrastructural assistance by providing necessities such as food, water, and shelter.
According to USAID, the US contributed around $277 million for the fiscal year 2020 between several government entities.
Remote assistance may come in monetary donations or projects to provide Afghans with additional resources.
For example, humanitarian support helped build the Afghan Women’s Education Project, Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund, and Trust in Education- which provide methods of rebuilding Afghanistan through economic means.
Insurgency as a Last Resort
Financial aid might help in the short term, but people need jobs to succeed.
Same with people in Afghanistan.
Like Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “ Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”
We don’t expect Kabul to be a world economic leader, but simple jobs are necessary to rebuild Afghanistan.
And where people lack options, they get desperate.
If bread isn’t on the table, law-abiding people may look to illegal means to feed themselves and their families.
The Taliban knows this and uses it as a recruiting tool.
Teaching a well-known local to set an IED is a cheap, quick, and easy tactic for the insurgency.
We can’t put a number on it, but it’s safe to say many Afghans wouldn’t have become insurgents if they had more stability in their lives.
“ Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”Martin Luther King Jr.
Job Creation to Rebuild Afghanistan
According to Mohammad Hotak, founder of the British Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BACCI), 68% of Afghan people seek to join insurgent groups due to poverty rates.
Hotak says to bring jobs to the region, the Afghan government must remove unnecessary red tape that creates obstacles for business owners.
For example, before 2016, new companies faced steep startup fees and required more than one business license.
In 2016, the Afghanistan Central Business Registry-Intellectual Property (ACBR-IP) helped reduce requirements by allowing a single business license and cutting startup costs.
In addition to facilitating business, the Afghan government can work to use the nation’s natural resources for international exportation.
For example, in 2014, the Pomegreat Juice Company of England signed a deal to buy pomegranates from Afghan partners.
But the deal had challenges with roadside attacks on shipping routes.
What Afghanistan needs to rebuild is old-fashioned entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurs typically reap the rewards of a successful business, but they also take on most risks.
And in Afghanistan, that comes in more than one form.
It’ll take courageous business people to make effective change, like Matt Griffin, who started Combat Flip Flops‘ footwear company in Afghanistan.
Griffin, a US Army veteran, served in Afghanistan multiple times in the earlier years of the war.
After getting out in 2006, he went to work for a medical contracting company that supported conflicted areas, and he found himself in Afghanistan as a civilian.
On that trip, Griffin visited a factory that made boots for the Afghan National Army.
The Afghans knew that they would be out of a job after the war, and boot demand declined.
While at the factory, Griffin saw a flip flop made out of a boot sole, and an idea was born.
With two colleagues, one of which was a fellow Soldier, Griffin started Combat Flip Flops in 2012.
Due to contract changes, the company moved to Colombia but still supports Afghanistan in other ways.
Griffin also teamed up with Afghan factory owner Hassina Sherjan to make Afghan scarves, known as shemaghs.
Sherjan’s all-female workforce hand-makes these scarves in Afghanistan and sells them through Combat Flip Flops.
Sherjan is also the founder of Aid Afghanistan for Education, which helps women and young girls get an education in multiple Afghan provinces.
In a 2011 Ted Talk, Sherjan tells the story of Boumi, a company she started that produced home décor items and jobs for locals.
Sherjan and Griffin know new opportunities are the keys to rebuilding Afghanistan. That’s why a portion of proceeds from each pair of Combat Flip Flops funds one day of school for an Afghan girl.
The Near Future
It’s hard to predict the coming years for Afghanistan.
But, as the United States moves closer to withdrawal, the focus is on security.
Still, the US may continue to provide military aid in training Afghan forces in outside countries.
In a May 6 Pentagon briefing, General Mark Milley suggested training Afghan troops outside Afghanistan is a possibility.
However, the Afghan security forces will be the boots on the ground fighting for their country.
Recently, many Afghans have moved to neighbor countries such as Pakistan and Turkey in anticipation of increased violence.
Afghanistan has a complicated past, but the recurring theme is security.
It’s a pivotal time, and the next few months will be crucial to how the future will rebuild Afghanistan.
In an April 14th White House briefing President Biden announced the withdrawal of US troops would be complete by September 11th, 2021.