Doing the first Afghanistan report – Chartbook #29 – has rocked my world a little bit. I did not appreciate how complex and ambiguous was the modernization of Afghanistan’s economy and society since 2001. Nor did I appreciate the scale of the 1980s devastation. It is very rare for modern societies with an established pattern of population growth to experience a sudden and prolonged reversal. This points to a disaster of truly enormous proportions.
To drive home how anomalous was Afghanistan’s development, compare it to Iraq. Through the late 1970 they had similar populations on similar growth trajectories. They both fought major wars in the 1980s. But whereas the Iran-Iraq war remained largely confined to the battlefield and Saddam’s atrocities were restricted to the Kurdish and Shia areas, in Afghanistan the battle between the Soviet forces, the regime in Kabul and the resistance disrupted civil society and produced a dramatic demographic collapse. What explains that collapse?