Afghanistan, an exceptional nation

By Razib Khan | August 14, 2010 2:15 am

Most readers of this weblog are aware that the United States is in a mission of “nation building” in Afghanistan. I know that we probably deny that, but that’s what it is. Going through Google data explorer I’m struck by what an exceptional nation we’ve decided to intervene in. Below is a chart which has infant mortality rate on the y-axis and life expectancy on the x-axis. I’ve allowed the bubbles to be defined by their regions in terms of color, and labelled the South & Central Asian nations to give a sense of the change in vital statistics for the “peers” of Afghanistan over the past generation. Observe that Sub-Saharan Africa is pulling away from Afghanistan in the last 10 years!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, Culture

Comments (17)

  1. bioIgnoramus

    If the USA had real faith in the success of its “mission” in Afghanistan, it’d be urging FIFA to give Afghanistan the World Cup of 2018. Unless they’ve already earmarked it for Iraq of course.

  2. Fascinating graph . Scrolling the years there is a horrible loop out to the left for Rwanda in early ’90s, peaking in ’94. A sad shift to the left for Zimbabwe but a more hopeful entrance by Cambodia

  3. Yawnie

    When the rate of mortality is high, the birth rate is also high , or is that too simple.

    Afghanistan’s ‘Disposable Sons’
    NATO is helpless against the country’s youth bulge

  4. Bystander

    @4. Yawnie, I do not think that is the point.

  5. Razib,
    Something you need to remember is that the bad guys preferentially select basket case countries to set up shop in. So we would expect Afghanistan, somalia, yemen, palestine, etc to be at the bottom of their respective regions, since the terrorists would have gone somewhere else otherwise.

    Also, once lousy, the bad guys have an incentive to nation-bust, and keep the countries which they have infected dysfunctional.

    There’s not much point in trying to nation-build in Luxembourg.

  6. onur

    Yeah, why the terrorists don’t do the same things they did to Afghanistan and Palestine to Saudi Arabia, whose sect of Islam is far more fundamentalist and strict than those of Afghanistan and Palestine? Because they can’t, Saudi Arabia is a wealthy petrodollar country as an American ally.

  7. gcochran

    15 out of the 19 9-11 hijackers were were Saudis. 2 from the United Arab Emirates, 1 from Egypt, 1 from Lebanon.

  8. onur

    15 out of the 19 9-11 hijackers were were Saudis. 2 from the United Arab Emirates, 1 from Egypt, 1 from Lebanon.

    Yes, I know, but the terrorists weren’t able to dwell in Saudi Arabia and no known terrorist lives there now because of the effective anti-terror policies of the very wealthy Saudi government.

    BTW, the Saudis attribute the employment of such a high number of Saudis in the 9/11 attacks to the aims of the al-Qa’ida to slander the Saudis as part of its anti-Saudi stance.

  9. onur

    Grammatical correction: “aims of the al-Qa’ida”

    I must have written “aims of al-Qa’ida” as “al-” means “the” in Arabic.

  10. John Emerson

    Afghanistan hasn’t been at peace since about 1975 except (hold your breath) during the early Taliban period. It’s been a stomping ground for the US, the USSR, the Saudis (al Qaeda and other), Pakistan, and amybe Iran.

    During the early period al Qaeda got funding from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. When and if that stopped I don’t know. For some time there was a deal whereby the Saudi government tolerated activities outside their borders as long as nothing happened at home. That deal seems no longer to be in effect.

    Cosma Shalizi recently posted a series of his grandfather’s photographs from pre-war Afghanistan. Afghanistan now is nothing like what it might have been. There’s a tendency to say “Those peopel are just barbarians”, but the place has been transformed by constant warfare which was not usually locally generated.

  11. gcochran

    The Saudis are lying, of course – most of the members in of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan were Saudi, and that’s why they made up most of the hijackers. Public opinion in Saudi Arabia was more favorable to the 9-11 attack than in almost any other part of the Moslem world.

    And although nobody ever talks about it , mainly because they don’t know it, felt _poverty_ in Saudi Arabia was likely a major underlying cause.

  12. onur

    According to the latest public surveys, Saudi Arabia has one of the most pro-US public opinion among all Muslim countries:

    According to the same poll, public support for al-Qa’ida and Usama bin Ladin is only about 10% in Saudi Arabia, the rest is against them and terrorism in general.

  13. Onur interesting data!

    Afghanistan is a unique case you should see the pictures of the 1950’s it looks exactly like Tehran.

    Take a look at these pictures of Afghanistan!,1

    Razib what is very interesting the picture series discusses infant mortality, which you have touched on too. What a coincidence!

  14. onur

    Zachary, I already knew that the recent past (just a few decades ago) of Afghanistan was far different and brighter than what is today, but thanks for the link anyway, as some readers of this blog may be less knowledgeable about Afghanistan’s recent past. BTW, are you Pashtun (from Afghanistan or Pakistan)?

  15. @ Onur – British Pakistani

    My grandfather’s tribe were the Kakazai who were Pathans settled in the Punjab. The ethnogenesis of the tribe seems to be Afghan & low-caste Sikh converts, which is why we’re found in East Punjab as well.

    Like a lot of Pakistanis Punjabis; I have forgotten ancestral ties to the Wild West, which in our case is Afghanistan.

  16. Brian Too

    Note the overall pattern. Increased life expectancies and lower infant mortality rates almost everywhere. That’s the big picture and most important message.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


See More


RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar