Author | Editor: Aviles, W. (NSI, Inc.)
Two datasets on wealth and status distribution in Afghanistan were analyzed: the 2015 wealth factor scores and distribution of agricultural land from the USAID Demography Health Survey (DHS).
Despite Afghanistan’s poverty, it does not have severe overall inequality. However, there is severe inequality in agricultural land ownership, making this segment of the population extremely risk acceptant.
Significance for Risk Taking and Stability
The distribution of agricultural land touches on a defining issue of Afghan inequality, namely the urban- rural divide that heavily impedes Afghanistan’s progress in modernization. A poor, highly risk acceptant rural population is ripe for Taliban recruitment, where it has the most allegiance, and directly contributes to the rampant illicit opium economy.
Implications for US Interests
Urban-rural inequality dynamics are of significant concern to US interests in Kabul’s stability, because they serve to undermine the legitimacy of President Ashraf Ghani’s administration and the abdication of hostilities with the Taliban. Minimizing inequality in rural areas can increase the popularity of the Ghani government, reduce the Taliban’s recruitment ability, and diminish the informal and black economies of Afghanistan.
Implications for China’s Interests
China shares similar interests to the US, insofar as advancing general political stability and counter- terrorism. Urban-rural inequality will be of concern to Beijing in the context of safeguarding China’s agenda of integrating Afghanistan into the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and destitute, risk-acceptant rural populations do not help in this regard. Furthermore, China is also concerned with Taliban recruitment among such rural populations.
Implications for Russia’s Interests
Afghanistan’s inequality is of less concern to Russia than either the US or China, and risk acceptant populations are favorable to Moscow in the context of undermining US presence, and unfavorable with regard to increased terrorist activity within their geopolitical periphery.