Afghanistan Society and Economy

By | December 16, 2021

Population, society and rights

The Afghan population is very young (the median age is only 16.6 years) and three quarters of the country’s residents live in rural areas. Urbanization has not undergone notable changes over the last twenty years: in Afghanistan the customs and tribal customs are still strongly rooted and therefore the tendency not to live in the city prevails.

The ethnic composition it is among the most heterogeneous in the world. With around 12 million people, Pashtuns are the most widespread ethnic group, although they do not exceed 40% of the population. It should be remembered that as many as 28 million Pashtuns reside in Pakistan, although they represent only 16% of the population there. Behind the Pashtuns are the Tajiks (27% of Afghans) and the Turkic peoples (Uzbeks and Turkmen, 12%). A long list of minorities follows: the Hazaras, mostly Shiites, populate the center of Afghanistan and have animated a substantial diaspora in Iran (1.5 million people); the Baloch, on the other hand, live in the South, straddling Pakistan, and are supporters of strong independence demands. Decades of conflicts have had obvious consequences on the movements of the Afghan population. The 2001 invasion caused the displacement of 7.5 million people, two thirds of which towards Pakistan and one third towards Iran. Almost 6 million Afghans then returned to the country over the next nine years: sudden demographic changes put pressure on Afghan infrastructure, already deficient and heavily damaged by the war. However, according to UNHCR data, over 1.6 million Afghans still resided in Pakistan in 2014. To the problem of the diaspora and return immigration is also added that of internally displaced people, estimated at 631,000 people. The war years contributed to the backwardness of social and health conditions. Afghanistan is the state with the highest infant mortality in the world. Access to drinking water is scarce and there is a high rate of child labor. Since the end of the Taliban regime some social rights have been restored and the segregation of women has decreased, but discrimination remains rooted in the traditional values ​​of Afghan tribal society. Against an already low 43% of the male population who can read and write, only 13% of women are in the same conditions. For Afghanistan democracy and rights, please check

Economy and energy

Heavily dependent on the agricultural sector and donor aidinternational, the Afghan legal economy suffers from the poor control of the central administration over large swaths of territory. The economic system is still fragmented at the regional level and therefore remains highly agricultural (industries and services require a greater central coordination capacity, as well as internal stability) and exposed to great fluctuations, linked to the seasonality of crops and frequent periods of drought.. In addition to being affected by the almost thirty years of uninterrupted war, the Afghan economic structure is suffering from the heavy uncertainty linked to the difficult democratic transition. The high instability and lack of confidence in the country’s future development possibilities have led to a decrease in investment and a contraction in the development of some key sectors for the Afghan economy, primarily that of construction and infrastructure.

Afghanistan has no access to the sea and therefore depends on neighboring countries for the import and export of its products, as well as for energy supplies. The closest port is that of Karachi, Pakistan, and relations between the two neighbors have often been marked by bitter trade disputes concerning, among other things, the extent of the duties to be levied on Afghan products directed abroad. For this reason, it is through the illegal and underground economy that the country has historically engaged in profitable trade with foreign countries, and to an even greater extent since the 2001 military intervention. In particular, the cultivation of poppies has led Afghanistan to reach a situation of worldwide near-monopoly in the production of opiates. (heroin and morphine in particular). Commerce is often controlled by tribal leaders or warlords, who use the proceeds to finance local communities or the insurgency itself.

Afghanistan is a resource-poor country, forced to import around 72.8% of the energy consumed. It does not produce oil, which it imports refined from Pakistan and neighboring Central Asian countries. On the contrary, it extracts gas from its subsoil, in limited quantities but sufficient to satisfy internal demand. 75% of the national electricity grid is supplied by hydroelectric plants. However, only a third of the population has electricity for the whole day and during frequent periods of drought even those who have electricity have to deal with frequent blackouts.

Despite the scarce availability of own resources, the peculiar location of Afghanistan, strategically located between the Caspian-Middle Eastern hydrocarbon production areas and countries – such as Pakistan, India and China – with growing energy supply needs, make the territory a natural crossroads of Central Asian infrastructure projects. In recent years, contacts have resumed between the Turkmen, Pakistani and Indian government authorities for the laying of a gas pipeline whose project dates back to the mid-1990s. Frozen after the Taliban came to power, the project – called Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (Tapi) – is back on the agenda thanks to the programs prepared by the international financial institutions and the increase in Turkmen production capacity. According to the scheme under discussion between the parties involved, the Tapi, which should be completed in 2017 and become operational in 2018, could allow the export of 33 billion cubic meters of gas per year, of which 14.1 billion reserved for India. and Pakistan and 5.1 billion to Afghanistan. The project is supported by the United States, which consider it a central element for the stabilization of the country and which, for no secondary strategic reasons, prefer it to the alternative of a gas pipeline connecting Iran to China or Pakistan.

Afghanistan Society

The opium market in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is the leading opium producer globally. From 2001 to 2007, production grew steadily, until Afghanistan alone covered over 90% of world production. The processes associated with the cultivation of opium poppies and the production of morphine and heroin have a considerable impact on the life of the country. In November 2013, the record level of 209,000 hectares of arable land dedicated to opium was reached. According to some estimates, drug trafficking obtains revenues of about 1.4 billion dollars a year, equal to 10% of the national GDP. Opium cultivation is concentrated in the southern and eastern regions, particularly in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. The same areas are distinguished by the strong Taliban presence and chronic insecurity. This overlap confirms the close link between the drug market and the insurgency, which are mutually supportive. On the one hand, the proceeds from drug trafficking represent one of the major sources of funding for the insurrection; on the other hand, the Taliban themselves, in the areas where they are most present, are interested in creating the necessary conditions for the opium market to thrive. The attempt to counter opium production and the drug market, both by the government of Kabul and by the international community, encounters objective limits in the very nature of cultivation. Compared to other types of plants, the opium poppy is very resistant and guarantees good harvests even in unfavorable weather conditions and in case of drought. Furthermore, given the prices on the international market,

The main strategies proposed by the international community to combat the drug market are essentially three. In the first place, investments were made in policies to eradicate illegal plantations. While not without results, such as the reduction of opium cultivation areas, these policies have proved to be an insufficient tool for reducing production. Secondly, efforts have been made to promote projects for converting opium poppy cultivation into legal crops.

However, these projects require strong incentives and infrastructural investments: those that have arrived so far have proved inadequate. Finally, due to the divisions in the international community, the project to legalize the cultivation of opium and the production of morphine destined for medical uses remains only hypothetical.