Three Factors Contributing to Afghanistan’s Instability

These three factors have strongly affected Afghanistan’s political stability.


Afghan policemen march during the transfer of authority from NATO troops to Afghan security forces in Chaghcharan, Ghor province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Jan. 4. Credit: Hoshang Hashimi/Associated Press

Political scientists believe that higher population size and concentration raises the risk of civil conflict.

It could also lead to higher probability of revolutions to overthrow governing elites in non-democratic countries. This claim, supported by political scientists, does not refer to the number of people that eventually join an insurgency, but only the number of people that start one. They constitute enough rebels to pose a serious threat.

In Afghanistan the rural population is an important determinant of political stability.

Now and in the past, the political stability in Afghanistan has been threatened mainly by rural residents. Currently almost all insurgent groups such as the Taliban are based in rural areas. From those safe heavens they recruit insurgents and manage all of their destructive activities against the government. As a footnote in history, most resistance groups were based in rural areas during Afghanistan’s fight against the Soviet Union. In 1996 when the Taliban conquered Kabul, almost all of their fighters were recruited from rural communities.

The reasons are very obvious: rural areas are safe havens where insurgents could easily and freely plan their destructive activities. Moreover, the threat of rural populations to political stability of Afghanistan results from the interconnection of the following well-known facts:


Insurgency is closely related to the geography of the country. The presence of rough terrain, poorly served by roads and at a distance from the centers of state power, favors insurgents. This is fostered by the availability of cross-border sanctuaries inhabited by people that can be easily manipulated by local insurgents. In this scenario it is not uncommon that these local populations get trapped between their responsibilities as citizens of the country and their cultural loyalty to the local insurgent groups. Moreover, the government does not have a permanent control over these areas, which nurtures a decent atmosphere for insurgent groups.

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People feel that their government has abandoned them and failed to provide financial means to elevate their living standards. This problem is enhanced by the fact that the country has a large percentage of young men who cannot find enough employment opportunities. Their contribution to economic development and their participation in the political process is highly underexploited. Afghan young men tend to participate in activities that are either economically unproductive, such as joining gangs and drug cartels or politically destructive, such as organizing resistance groups under leadership of insurgents.


It is a well known fact that religious extremism has become the core of much of Afghanistan’s violence. Extremists justify their version of Islam to force people to accept their Islamic interpretation. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that almost all of the rural residents are uneducated. The presence of madrasas (Islamic schools) works in their favor. In these schools they mainly spread their radical political thinking to the public. The products of madrasas are radical Muslims who play key roles in destabilizing activities.

Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in insurgent attacks in the country. Security handovers from NATO to Afghan forces, and the American pullout have motivated the Taliban to increase their destructive activities. The threat might strongly resurface yet again.

Based on these three reasons, the rural population has a strong impact on the political stability of Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, it seems that the government is not taking this problem very seriously. This threat is becoming very grave by the reduction and withdrawal of American and NATO forces from the country. History might repeat itself again if the government fails to tackle the challenges.

Abdul Rashid Faizi graduated from the United Arab Emirates University, in the UAE. Abdul is a researcher at the UAE University focusing on political economy, international economic, economics of development, and foreign direct investment.

Shahabuddin Roufi is a research assistant at the College of Business and Economics, UAE University. His research interests include economics and political economy focusing in Islamic countries.