Five years after 'victory', violence and corruption dog Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

The paraphernalia of death were laid out on the table - shrapnel, detonators, bombers' manual, false identification cards. "Enough for four, five suicide attacks" said General Ali Shah Paktiawal of the Afghan police.

"We are not allowed to blame Pakistan directly of course. But the men we caught were from Pakistan, these things were bought there. Look, they have even kept receipts."

This was Kabul yesterday, the capital of a country from which Tony Blair famously promised "this time we will not walk away", a land now torn by violence and wide-scale corruption, the heroin supplier to the world despite millions of dollars spent on eradication.

Five years after the American-led invasion, the infrastructure still lies shattered, with accusations of international aid being squandered. Meanwhile, the rights of half the population, women, are being steadily clawed back under the burqa.

Afghanistan is also where Western forces, in large numbers, are fighting a war which George Bush and Mr Blair had declared won with the fall of the Taliban regime as they moved the "war on terror" to Iraq.

The Taliban are back with a vengeance now and there is little talk of victory. Nato troops have inflicted heavy casualties on the insurgents, but military commanders talk of reinforcements coming from across the Pakistani border.

The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has accused Pakistan of sheltering the bombers and its intelligence service, the ISI, of arming and training them. Mr Bush and Mr Blair have raised the claims with Pakistan's leader, General Pervez Musharraf, who vehemently denies them.

General Paktiawal was poisoned while in a government ministry four months ago, an example of the long reach of a ruthless enemy. He received emergency treatment abroad and is still on medication. He said: "Who did it, the Taliban, al-Qa'ida, the ISI, working together? I do not want to say. What I do know is that I will be surprised if they do not try to kill me again.

"You cannot end terrorism quickly, especially when there are outside forces involved," he added. "I accept we have big problems."

Syed Mahmood Gailani, a member of parliament from Ghazni, is grappling with some of these problems. He and fellow MPs have been asked to look into the construction of a failed dam and find out who was responsible.

Mr Gailani, 28, polled the third largest number of votes in the country as an independent candidate in the general election and is seen as one of Afghanistan's future leaders. "I am going to Ghazni City in an armed convoy because the road is so dangerous and this is meant to be one of the main roads in the country," he said. "I cannot go to any of the outlying areas. We also cannot go to the dam by road because of the Taliban. We need to fly there, and if a helicopter is not available the journey would be wasted.

"The government is warning many MPs in private not to go to their constituencies because they might get killed. So this is not exactly democracy working. Corruption is a huge problem and I am afraid people close to President Karzai are heavily involved. People are asking what has happened to the billions of dollars of aid money, given by the international community, which was supposed to have been spent in Afghanistan. There is no accountability.

"Take this dam for example, its cost is anything between $700,000 [£370,000] and $2m, there are no proper accounts. The NGO involved and the locals are blaming each other. The ones to suffer are the poor."

Hundreds of these poor queue outside one of the country's largest civilian hospitals, Sehateful, for treatment every day. India and Japan supply most of the medicine for a children's clinic and a group of volunteer Indian doctors is working there.

Amrullah, 29, a casual labourer, has brought his eight-year-old son, Khairulla, suffering from a heart condition, for treatment. "The doctors here are good people. But my son needs an operation and I don't think they can do that here.

"In other hospitals, they want bribes to give you treatment. I went to one where they could do the operation and they wanted $600. How will I get that kind of money? My son cannot go to school, he cannot walk, but there is nothing I can do. We had a lot of hope when the Taliban went but there is very little of that now."

Adult patients, turning up at a rate of a thousand a day, have to pay for treatment. Dr Nooral Haq Yousifzai, the acting director, said: "The government gives $1,500 for three months. That just lasts a few days. We look after the acute emergencies. For everyone else we give a shopping list and they have to buy the supplies from the bazaar if they want treatment.

"We also have a great shortage of nurses. We need 150 and there are 50 vacancies. That is because the NGOs are paying them salaries we cannot afford."

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