Thursday, October 06, 2011

Life grim for Afghans as war drags on

KANDAHAR: Mr Asif Khan sits on a dirty, once-white blanket in an abandoned cinema and fights back tears of desperation.

He can't find a job for his eldest son, who 'even knows computers', without paying a bribe. He can't afford uniforms, books or pencils for his nine daughters to go to school.

It's a long way from the optimism he felt when he returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan after the United States defeated the Taleban in 2001. Now, he says: 'I have no hope.'

As the US and Nato mark 10 years of war in Afghanistan tomorrow, a grim picture emerges from scores of interviews over six months across the country with ordinary Afghans, government officials, soldiers, and former and current Taleban members, along with recent data.

The difference between the often optimistic assessment of US generals and the reality on the ground for Afghans is stark.

There are signs of progress - an important one is that schools are open. More than six million children are in school today, according to the United Nations. The media is also flourishing, with several newspapers, weekly magazines and 10 television channels in operation.

But for Afghans, it has been a decade of one step forward and two steps back.

Afghanistan is failing in security and good government. Violence has gone up this year with increasingly brazen attacks, and has spread to the once-peaceful north of the country. And widespread corruption is bedevilling attempts to create a viable Afghan government and institutions to take over when the US and Nato leave in 2014.

'Right now, we have no idea whom to be afraid of. We are afraid of everyone. Every street has its own ruler, own thugs,' said Ms Rangina Hamidi, the daughter of Kandahar Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi. Months after she spoke with the Associated Press, her father was killed in a suicide bombing.

International forces released data last month saying violent attacks are down. The generals claim they have gained back land in the south, and that the morale of the Taleban is sinking. But the International Crisis Group, based in Brussels, reported in August that more districts are in fact coming under Taleban control.

There were 2,108 clashes and other violent incidents per month for the latest quarter, up 39 per cent from the figure in the same period last year, according to the UN. And last year was the deadliest of the war for international troops, with more than 700 killed.

The Taleban has returned in part because Afghans have learnt to expect little from a failed government and institutions wracked with corruption.

A national poll by the BBC and other media taken in 2009 found that 50 per cent of Afghans said corruption among government officials or police had increased in the last year. About 63 per cent said corruption was a big issue, compared with 45 per cent a year earlier.