In a nation more associated with calamity than consensus, the initial results of Saturday’s Afghan presidential election are startling.
Despite Taliban threats to attack polling stations nationwide, the same percentage of Afghans turned out to vote—roughly 58 percent, or 7 million out of 12 million eligible voters—as did Americans in the 2012 U.S. presidential race. Instead of collapsing, Afghan security forces effectively secured the vote. And a leading candidate to replace Hamid Karzai is Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank technocrat who has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Columbia University, a Lebanese Christian wife, and an acclaimed book and TED talk entitled “Fixing Failed States.”
"Relative to what we were expecting, it’s very hard to not conclude that this was a real defeat for the Taliban," Andrew Wilder, an American expert on Afghanistan, said in a telephone interview from Kabul on Monday. "And a very good day for the Afghan people."
Two forces that have long destabilized the country—its political elite and its neighbors—could easily squander the initial success. Evidence of large-scale fraud could undermine the legitimacy of the election and exacerbate long-running ethnic divides. And outside powers could continue to fund and arm the Taliban and disgruntled Afghan warlords, as they have for decades.
Read more. [Image: Tim Wimborne/Reuters]
Niedringhaus, a photographer with the Associated Press, was shot and killed by an Afghan policeman. Fellow reporter Kathy Gannon was also wounded.
Despite decades of conflict in Afghanistan, the country’s capital city of Kabul is home to a vibrant youth scene, a handful of sleek shopping malls, cafes, and more. Reuters photographer Morteza Nikoubazl recently set out to document modern Kabul, populated by musicians, artists, athletes, and activists who are trying to live 21st-century lives in spite of massive infrastructure problems and the ever-present threat of militant attacks. Afghanistan is preparing for an election on April 5 that should mark the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history, but it has been hit by a tide of violence as the Taliban has ordered its fighters to disrupt the vote and threatened to kill anyone who participates. Many of the people in these images were happy to be photographed, but did not want to give their names. This photo essay is part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan.
Seventy percent of the country’s population is under 25. Can music make them interested in politics?
Testifying Wednesday before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, offered a grim assessment of the war-torn country—and revealed startling details about America’s hapless reconstruction efforts there.
Few have a job as challenging as Sopko’s. As the inspector general, he must study our actions and spending, and uncover and investigate examples of fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption. Since the U.S. has spent the last 12 years blasting dollars into Afghanistan, “following the money” is a task on the order of investigating grains of sand in the desert. Still, Sopko and his team have proven to be uncompromising, inexhaustible, and enormously effective. His office is independent; he is not beholden to the usual feudal lords in Washington. As Congress has decided to sit this war out, Sopko has proven to be the conflict’s only real oversight mechanism.
Since taking charge in 2012, he’s uncovered everything from $230 million in missing spare parts to spending on diesel running $500 per gallon (when the going rate was around $5 per gallon). Thanks to Sopko, American taxpayers learned that they bought $200,000 thermostats for air conditioners in a small medical clinic that was never completed—and according to the Afghan government, was probably never going to be used. And that’s just in the areas to which he has access. Because of security concerns, by next year his office will be restricted to a mere 21 percent of the country.
Read more.[Image: Reuters/Parwiz]
Western forces continue their long withdrawal from Afghanistan, scheduled to be complete within a year, save for a small number NATO advisers and security teams. Recent reports and evaluations of the state of affairs in Afghanistan indicate a bleak immediate future, despite billions of dollars of foreign aid. Human rights groups report that violence against women is intensifying, malnutrition is mysteriously on the rise nationwide, economic growth has dropped sharply, and continued foreign aid is threatened by possible instability post-withdrawal. Gathered here are recent images from this war-weary country, part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan.
Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus has been covering conflicts from Bosnia to Afghanistan for more than 20 years, earning a Pulitzer Prize in 2005, as part of a team of AP photographers covering the Iraq War. She has traveled to Afghanistan numerous times, photographing events from 2001 until today, sending photos from Kandahar as recently as yesterday. Documenting a decades-long story like the Afghanistan War is a challenge for any photojournalist, from simple logistical issues, to serious safety concerns, to the difficulty of keeping the narrative fresh and compelling. Niedringhaus has done a remarkable job, telling people’s stories with a strong, consistent voice, an amazing eye for light and composition, and a level of compassion that clearly shows through her images. Gathered here are just a handful of her photos from the war-torn nation, part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan.
The average cost of each U.S. troop—that is, each military member—in Afghanistan will nearly double in the last year of the war to $2.1 million, according to a new analysis of the Pentagon’s budget.
For the past five years, from fiscal 2008 through 2013, the average troop cost had held steady at roughly $1.3. million. But the Pentagon’s 2014 war budget would dramatically increase that figure. The added cost, argue Defense Department officials, is a reflection of the price of sending troops and equipment back home in the drawdown.
Read more. [Image: Shamil Zumatov/Reuters]
A bulldozer. A radio. A pencil. A Koran. These are just a few of the candidates vying to win Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential election.
For each of the 10 candidates expected to be on the ballot for the April 5 vote, there is a symbol. And those symbols will be printed on ballot papers alongside the name and photograph of each candidate to help voters choose their preferred candidate.
The idea is to make voting easier for the many eligible voters in the country who cannot read. Only 39 percent of Afghanistan’s adult population is literate.
In keeping with elections dating back to 2004, the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) initially assigned a symbol to each potential candidate assuming that there would be a high number of contenders to choose from.
Read more. [Image: Omar Sobhani/Reuters]
While the U.S. military can win wars with overwhelming firepower, the conventional wisdom is that the U.S. lacks effective civilian tools to win the peace. Afghanistan’s public health care system provides a powerful counterpoint: financed largely by American foreign aid, it has produced the most rapid increase in life expectancy observed anywhere on the planet. What went right? And why do American auditors and Congressional overseers suddenly want to pull the plug?
In late 2011, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced some astonishing news about progress in health and mortality in Afghanistan. The new findings came from the release of the 2010 Afghanistan Mortality Survey, the largest survey of its kind ever undertaken in Afghanistan. The survey showed that from 2004 to 2010, life expectancy had risen from just 42 years—the second lowest rate in the world—to 62 years, driven by a sharp decline in child mortality. As a result, nearly 100,000 Afghan children per year who previously would have died now don’t.
Read more. [Image: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]