The future of Afghanistan depends upon how it strengthens its fledgling democratic institutions and arrests corruption, says Sujeet Sarkar, the author of a new book on the war-ravaged country.
"Things can become terribly ugly if there is a sudden vacuum in federal governance. Hence every focus from now on has to be to fix governance in Afghanistan," Sarkar said while referring to the planned drawdown of the US-led coalition forces from 2013 that many fear could lead to the resurgence of the Taliban.
At the same time, Sarkar, author of the just-released "In Search of a New Afghanistan (Niyogi Books)", admitted there had been progress in some areas.
"Significant progress has been made in some sectors of development in Afghanistan. One such area is girls' education. In the last one decade, nearly three million children have been brought under the fold of education," Sarkar told IANS.
"All the women's medical colleges and engineering colleges (which were closed during the Taliban times) are running with their full capacity. A considerable number of women have taken up jobs in the urban areas," he added.
As for corruption, Sarkar said: "Afghanistan has been graded as the second most corrupt country in the world after Somalia by (Berlin-based) Transparency International. Afghanistan shares a berth with Myanmar with a Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of 1.4."
According to a survey by anti-corruption Charity Integrity Watch, corruption in Afghanistan had doubled since 2007 - six years after the coalition forces moved in.
"Afghans paid nearly $1 billion in bribes in 2008 with nearly one-third of those surveyed saying they had to pay up to obtain public services. Corruption emanates largely from lack of accountability and weak machinery which is almost defunct in Afghanistan. Whatever little is left is largely influenced by Kabul's power corridors. The rapid proliferation of corruption is hurting Afghanistan badly," Sarkar said.
All the more reason to strengthen governance, he added.
Sarkar's book looks at the reconstruction of the country post 9/11 and describes the challenges.
"The country has to eliminate poppy cultivation as it is the root cause behind all evils to attract more foreign investment. There are larger issues at the international level like peace... The nation has to advance the peace process," said the writer.
Sarkar has worked in Afghanistan from May 2005 to March 2012, as an high-level international governance advisor.
During his professional stint, the author had the opportunity to witness the development processes across echelons of society.
"The idea to write 'In Search of a New Afghanistan' came during this phase of my active stay in Afghanistan," Sarkar said. His papers on development- and governance- related work had been considered a frontline model in Afghanistan by international media," the writer said.
"I have tried to make the common reader understand the role of Afghanistan and India in stopping Pakistan from muscling in the peace process and running away with the module for the peace process," he said.
Sarkar throws light on the last decade of military, reconstruction and development process in Afghanistan.
"After 9/11 NATO forces arrived in Afghanistan to irreversibly degrade the capacity of the Taliban to strike and, more importantly, exercise greater control over Afghanistan in future," said Sarkar, who has worked for several years in Afghanistan for an international aid organisation.
The writer said: "There was no denying that the Taliban had grown in number as well as influence over the past decade.
"From their stronghold of southern provinces, they have spread their tentacles to the once-peaceful northern provinces like Baglan, Takhar Kunduz and Badakshan. They are even worming their way into Kabul."
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)