Afghanistan may finally be getting better after almost fourteen years of direct Western intervention n its affairs. President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani is leveraging his years of development expertise from the World Bank. His Pashtun ties mean he represents Afghanistan's most populous sub-national group. Having a competent head of state is a necessary but not sufficient condition for better governance. The people themselves must want a better country.
UNICEF statistics on Afghanistan are discouraging. School net attendance ratios for girls show only a minority can get education after more than thirteen years of liberation from the Taliban's anti-female theology. Educated women are one of the most potent weapons against radical Islam. The UNGEI's statistics on girls' education in Afghanistan do not match the UNICEF data. The international community will have problems coordinating a coherent aid solution if it can't agree on data for the biggest problem areas.
A developed country must be a connected country. Searching the World Bank's site for Afghanistan's transport sector reveals road network data that has not been updated since 2007. The World Bank's main page on Afghanistan has more recent development data. The overall numbers are still discouraging. It is jarring to see CO2 emissions displayed so prominently for such a poor country. Controlling carbon is a luxury only the developed world can easily afford. Exempting Afghanistan from this expectation for at least a decade would speed its development. The USGS estimates Afghanistan has enormous natural resources but those will remain untapped if the West expects immediate adherence to every environmental standard in the developed world.
Developing countries have every right to join international regimes that will further their development. Afghanistan has been working toward WTO membership since 2004; it is still not a member. The country has been a WIPO member since 2005, so not all is lost. It will be difficult for Afghanistan to exploit any IP or other domestic advantage it can generate as long as it scores low on the Transparency Corruption Perceptions Index and Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom.
Afghanistan's future political development depends greatly on where it resides in the Strauss-Howe generational cycle. Generational Dynamics has begun discussing Afghanistan's Awakening period. Getting better data on the country's age cohorts will be crucial in estimating how strongly younger Afghans will push their elders for political reforms. The Asia Foundation's longitudinal public opinion polls of Afghans are among the best data available covering sentiment within the country. Effective leaders will leverage that polling data. Afghanistan's next generation of leaders should read the Fourth Turning to understand how public opinion will determine their options.
Weak governance in Afghanistan leaves it at the mercy of stronger neighbors. Iran threatened to attack Afghanistan in the late 1990s and has long maintained ties to Herat province. Pashtuns in Pakistan seek to erase the Durand Line and create a Pashtunistan joined with southeastern Afghanistan. Ironically, wise leaders in Kabul can hold Afghanistan together by giving provincial governors the support they need to solve problems as locally as possible. The West has never fully understood Afghanistan's traditionally decentralized approach to governance. Afghans understand it quite well enough.
Repatriated Afghans like President Ghani have enough experience in the West to know how to implement good governance. The West should have enough confidence in their education and professionalism to let them do so in ways consistent with Afghan traditions. The developed world has long known what lasting democracy needs. A middle class that can participate in making policy and an independent judiciary are absolute minimum requirements for a stable society under the rule of law. I have personally met Afghan graduate students studying in San Francisco under Fulbright scholarships and I am confident that they can make the best of what the West offers their country. The Fourth Turning awaits them when they return to Afghanistan.