Living at the Edge of Chaos: The Case of Afghanistan

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The United States department of State committed billions of dollars for the reconstruction of the Afghan infrastructure, to date the program has seen major highways and telecommunication networks restored in major cities around the once ground zero for terrorism, poverty and anarchy. The strict Sharia Law once been perpetuated by the Taliban prohibited use of mobile phones and maintained only the critical infrastructure key to their heroin supply routes and communication, which led to a stagnating economy classified as an ‘Infant Economy’. However, the democracy and development realized in the past decade has transformed Afghanistan into a complex system or rather a diverse economy.  The behavior of complex systems such as corporations in marketplaces, neurons in human brain and group behavior of migratory birds illustrate commonalities, the urge to progress and resilience of maintaining stability. Too much change is destructive as too little, only at The Edge of Chaos (as postulated in Chaos Theory) can complex systems flourish.

The Afghanistan Investment and Reconstruction Taskforce (AIRT) is at the fore front of transforming key infrastructure in the country. Cities such as Jalalabad enjoy high-speed internet access; Kabul’s internet connectivity is spiraling upwards as well as access to electricity, water and education. They are approaching the ‘Edge of Chaos’, any country that experienced tyranny and economic regression usually have a double digit growth rate after liberation, but this only happens to the point of ‘the Edge of Chaos’ which calls for creative solutions. Soon, with the growing population and improving per capita income the Afghan citizens will starts complaining about traffic jams, low doctor-to-patient ratio, pollution, congestion and other problems akin to developed countries. That’s why it is paramount for the government of Afghanistan to brace itself to manage the ‘edge of chaos’.

Imperative to this developing economy is the way complex systems seem to strike a balance between the need for order and importance of change. Successful complex systems tend to locate themselves at the edge of chaos, a place where there is enough innovation to keep the system vibrant and enough stability to keep it from collapsing into anarchy. It is a zone of conflict and upheaval where the old and new are constantly at war, finding the balance point is a delicate matter. Slight changes in a structure always causes change in behavior, introduction of parking lots, subway tunnels, high-speed trains, sidewalks all subtly change the behavior of a people. Sidewalk may create a walking nation who save on fuel and hence reduce carbon prints, others such as subway tunnels may create hotspots of crime that why it is essential to manage Afghanistan’s development as it ushers in into the ‘Edge of Chaos’.

Secondary economic establishments such as sports, entertainment, fashion, emanate from a complex system phenomenon known as self-organizing behavior, an outburst of activities not pre-planned but came about from the interaction of individuals and companies. All developed countries experience high rates of self-organizing behavior, for this to happen critical infrastructure has to be in place and individual freedom need to be expanded. The former is improving drastically in Afghanistan but the latter is still lagging, a highly conservative country rarely makes economic progress. Individuals influence a country’s economy, not the other way round. The world is undergoing numerous changes, politically, socially, technologically and ideologically, isolation leads to extinction. For Afghanistan to make it into the big league economies, it has to adapt to these changes. Corporations adapt to marketplaces, brain cells adapt to signal traffic, immune system adapts to infections and animals adapt to food supply. The ability to adapt is a characteristic of complex systems.

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About the author


From an early age wanted to be an Electronics Engineer, changed that to Software Engineer and now finds pleasure in studying and experimenting with artificial intelligence, computer graphics and behavioral economics.

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