Sat, Nov 15, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Afghans feel let down, but still have hope

FORGOTTEN PROMISESBritain promised to rebuild Afghanistan once the Taliban were ousted but outside of Kabul, the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda shows no sign of ending anytime soon

THE GUARDIAN , KABUL

An elderly Afghan women sits in the main graveyard of Kabul while praying at the grave of her husband on Thursday, the second anniversary of ousting of the Taliban regime.

PHOTO: AFP

So after the dust had settled following the attacks on the World Trade Center, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a pledge to the people of Afghanistan -- a country that was about to be attacked by US-led forces.

"To the Afghan people, we make this commitment. We will not walk away as the West has so often done before. If the Taliban regime changes, we will work with you to make sure its successor is one that is broad-based, that unites all ethnic groups and offers some way out of the poverty that is your miserable existence," he said.

Two years after the Taliban were chased from the streets of Kabul, the capital bustles. Roads are packed with cars and carts. In the city's dusty bazaars, trade is fierce. Around half of the women walking along the streets are still draped in burkas. But there are also street skaters, sliding swiftly through the traffic jams.

In a broom-cupboard music shop, crammed with cassettes of winking Bollywood starlets, Forshgha Bazena laughed when asked if his life had improved.

The Taliban banned music, forcing Bazena to sell tapes of Muslim prayers and Taliban chants: "Which are like songs," he explained, "only without the music."

On a good day, he sold 100 cassettes; now he sells 3,000.

"There's no one who isn't glad the Taliban are gone," Bazena said.

"Even those who aren't making money have peace," he said.

For those in the capital that may be true. But outside the city there is a different story to tell, a story that leads some British soldiers to dub their mission here "Operation Forgotten."

While the capital is protected by a 5,700-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), under NATO's control, much of the rest of the country is in turmoil.

Observers say regime change has no more brought an end to conflict in Afghanistan than in Iraq. Indeed in Afghanistan there are now two conflicts -- a continuing war pitting the US-led coalition against the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and a flickering civil war, which the coalition's invasion interrupted.

In recent months Afghanistan has seen its worst violence, on both fronts, for nearly two years. Hitting-and-running into the south from their safe havens in Pakistan, the black-turbaned Taliban are rallying. American officials report more attacks on the 11,500 coalition troops in the past three months than the previous 12.

A recent battle in southern Zabol province featured 200 Taliban fighters. On the mosque doors of Kandahar, the Taliban's former stronghold, edicts forbidding "moments of happiness and other occasions containing music" appear overnight. The Taliban's white flag flutters in outlying villages.

The Taliban have reason to celebrate. When they ambush coalition troops, they invariably come away bloodied. But with a new and repellent tactic, they appear to be scoring a major hit. In March, Taliban fighters shot dead an El Salvadorean Red Cross worker in southern Oruzgan province. In the past three months, 12 local aid workers have been murdered, causing most agencies to withdraw from southern Afghanistan.

"It's a brilliant guerrilla tactic," said Gorm Pederson, whose Danish non-governmental organization, Dakaar, lost four aid workers to a Taliban attack in September.

"How will we know when it's safe to return?" he said.

On Tuesday a UN office in Kandahar was gutted by a car bomb, raising fears of a bombing spree, as recently predicted by the UN.

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