Ashley Jackson: Ordinary Afghans long for a government that will keep its promises

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The Independent Online

As the government in Kabul and the international community continue to dither over the best way forward, spare a thought for the ordinary Afghan. As dispiriting as it may be to read about the foot-dragging in a newspaper, those facing the real-world consequences know all too well what negligent government may have cost their country.

Oxfam recently carried out a survey of 700 Afghan citizens, and their answers chime in with the conversations I have had with Afghans where I work in Kabul. If you are an Afghan, over the last three decades of war, the chances are that someone in your family will have died in conflict. The chances are that another family member will have been imprisoned or tortured, or both. You're likely to have been forced to flee your home at least once. There will be gaps in your education from when the conflict stopped you attending school because the mujahedin or Taliban had shut them down.

But that's if you were lucky enough to go to school at all, or even to have learned to read or write. If your family was poor, they would have sent you to work instead. If you are one of the few girls that went to school, you probably didn't make it past primary level.

This is the brutal legacy of three decades of conflict and disorder. Yet after the fall of the Taliban, many Afghans had high expectations for the future of their country. Eight years on, many are worried about the deteriorating security, frustrated by the lack of tangible improvements to their lives and unsure about the future. Still one in six women die of pregnancy-related complications, one in five children won't make it to their fifth birthday and more than half of the population lives in poverty.

In more insecure areas of the country, Afghans are caught between insurgents and pro-government forces – and often distrust both. Even in more stable areas of the country, many are worried about what will happen if the conflict spreads and are angry about the weakness of their own government. As one woman recently told me: "The current fighting hasn't really affected us yet; we only suffer from the problems of poverty, bribes and corruption." It's not surprising that one in six Afghans are thinking about leaving their home or the country.

Afghans want economic opportunities so that they can earn an honest living and support their families. They want to be able to send their children to school without fear that those schools will be attacked. And they want a government that is willing and able to keep its promises. This means better, more transparent governance and an expansion of basic services like health and education – but it also means holding individuals to account for past abuses and ensuring that they don't end up calling the shots once more.

Afghans need both security and development. And the last thing Afghans want is for the world to turn its back on them again.

Ashley Jackson is Oxfam International's head of policy and advocacy in Afghanistan

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