The most obvious change is urbanization. Close to half the population now lives in cities and towns. Kabul is a city of 5 million people, and the populations of Herat, Jalalabad and Kandahar have all tripled in the past decade. This urbanization weakens ethnic and tribal affiliations and helps women get access to jobs and education.
While still primitive in some rural areas, the country is also getting plugged into the global grid. More than 20 million people, or two-thirds of the country, now have access to mobile phones, up from zero a decade ago. Saad Mohseni, who runs MOBY Group, the country’s biggest media company, estimates that 60 percent of the population watches some television each week, and nearly 95 percent has access to radio.
The billions that America pumped into the country helped foster corruption, to be sure, but the money didn’t all vanish into bank accounts in Dubai. Gross domestic product per capita has increased nearly fivefold since 2002, with an annual growth rate of about 9 percent. Only 18 percent of the population has access to reliable electrical power, but that’s triple what it was a decade ago.