Leading article: The murderous fruits of neglect

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Safia Amajan was attempting to build a new, civilised Afghanistan. As the director of the Ministry of Women's Affairs in Kandahar she had opened numerous female schools and provided hundreds of women and girls with an education that, only five years ago, was denied them by the obscurantist Taliban. But it was this role in lifting the veil of ignorance and poverty from the Afghan people that also seems to have resulted in her death.

Ms Amajan was murdered yesterday by two gunmen as she left her home in Kandahar. It seems almost certain that the Taliban was responsible. Its commanders have threatened to kill anyone working for the government. And as a vocal critic of the former regime, Ms Amajan would have been a prime target.

This barbaric killing emphasises, once again, the despicable ideology of the Taliban. But it also underlines how shamefully Afghanistan has been let down by the rest of the world since the 2001 intervention to stop the country being a base for international terrorists. The Bush administration hails Afghanistan as a success story for its "war on terror". But across Afghanistan, violence against women is increasing. In the southern province of Helmand, where British troops are based, there are daily attacks on schools by the Taliban. Afghanistan has become, once again, the world's biggest exporter of heroin. The country is degenerating into violent anarchy.

The reason is neglect. President Hamid Karzai's desperate warnings about the deteriorating security situation in his country were ignored by a world preoccupied by Iraq. In 2001 the developed countries of the globe, led by the US, promised to provide President Karzai with the wherewithal to establish security. This was never delivered. It is unsurprising to learn that Ms Amajan's requests for a personal bodyguard were not granted, given that the Afghan police are so poorly equipped and undermanned. That does not make it any less scandalous.

The ordinary people of Afghanistan have been neglected too. They were promised new roads and irrigation canals after the departure of the Taliban. They were offered compensation for their ploughed-up poppy fields. Very little of this has materialised. As the Senlis Council think-tank pointed out this month, the battle to win the trust and support of ordinary Afghans has been lost. And now the Taliban are capitalising on this disillusionment and pushing back into old territories.

It is now apparent that the battle for Afghanistan did not end in 2001. The fall of Kabul was merely the beginning of that struggle. And, as this latest murder shows, the terrible truth is that the forces of enlightenment and democracy are in retreat.