Afghans remain sceptical that they will see peace in their time


Lashkar Gah

"I was born into war. I sometimes curse my parents. Why did they have children in war?" asked Faiz, an earnest young man from Kabul working as an interpreter in Helmand.

The 28-year-old explained that he never planned to marry or have children until he was sure that they would not have to endure the hardships of conflict. He held out little hope that that would ever happen.

"I will not have a wife, children. I have never known peace – only for a short time in Kabul. I am not hopeful.

"Most people in Afghanistan are hopeful – they wish, but they are not sure," he continued.

As the British and Americans talk grandly of an end game and the process of "transition", ordinary Afghans who will be left behind remain sceptical that they will see peace in their time. The mere suggestion elicits a shrug of the shoulders, a quizzical look.

Afghanistan may be rich in minerals but the commodity its people so desperately need is hope, and this is being tested to breaking point. Ten years after the start of the current conflict, the war seems bloodier than ever, with high numbers of troop deaths and record civilian casualties.

Spectacular bombings are daily news digests – 19 dead in Uruzgan, 19 in Nahr e Saraj, 18 in Lashkar Gah – it is a seemingly endless list.

As The Independent on Sunday reported last week, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) has found that the rate of civilian casualties has reached a record high, with 1,462 killed in January to June this year. While 80 per cent of those deaths were caused by insurgents, the number who died as a result of coalition air attacks was 14 per cent higher despite efforts to minimise civilian casualties.

Last week, just days after a Taliban suicide bomber caused carnage outside the police headquarters in Lashkar Gah, killing at least 18 and critically maiming more, the locals did not even flinch at a series of explosions. These were, in fact, simply controlled detonations, but it seems the Afghans have grown immune to the sounds of war.

Pretty little girls in sparkly dresses now throw rocks at passing vehicles – an international sign of the way conflict engulfs children – play becomes combat.

"It is almost 10 years since the Taliban lost power. There have been some changes, but not all good changes," explained Rohullah Elham, 25, one of a generation of driven young reporters who risk life and limb to investigate corruption and report on the fighting in Helmand.

"We have spent our whole life in war. The situation has improved a little bit, but still it is not where we want it to be. We do have a hope for a better future, but 10 years in not enough," he added.

Around Helmand there are signs of progress, regeneration projects that have sprung up, provincial councils that are now beginning to work on behalf of their electorate, a populace slowly turning from tribal or Taliban justice to seek out courts of law. Perhaps the most telling sign is that those who once listed security as their primary concern are now much quicker to complain about corruption.

But the violence persists. Locals insist they are glad that Afghan forces have now taken control of security, but already – just a fortnight after the transition of power from Isaf forces – they are fearful that they are not ready to cope with the Taliban onslaught alone.

At the Department of Women's Affairs (DoWA) building, Fowzea Olomi pointed to the shattered windows around the room, blown out by the police headquarters bomb days earlier.

"Every day the women and girls come for courses, that day they were crying and screaming. Security has got worse than before. The situation has got tougher and tougher."

Nearby her six-year-old granddaughter, Mursal, or Rose, wandered about clad in jeans and a T-shirt, a flower slide holding back her hair. She appeared every inch a modern child. Her grandmother's greatest hope is that she will become a minister for women's affairs one day.

Despite the violence, an increasing number of girls are getting primary education, but too few continue on to secondary school.

"In the current situation we see administrative corruption and violence against women. If the situation stays the same we will not have a good future, we cannot move forwards," said Mrs Olomi. "If we don't get rid of corruption and improve education the next generation will face the same situation, we won't have a real peace."

In his office at the Lashkar Gah Press Club, Zainullah Stanikzia agreed that the years ahead looked bleak if they could not sort out their government and build a strong education system. But he believed it was time for transition.

"The Afghan people are tired of war. We have spent more than 30 years at war. Each family has lost at least one family member. We are very tired.

"If the Afghan security forces are trained well and they have enough equipment they are able to provide security, it is much better that way.

"Look at history over the last 1,000 years. The Afghans have never accepted foreign forces in their country. If the foreigners stay for 100 years, they will never be accepted and there will be no future for 100 years."

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