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Afghans caught in the middle

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By Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Ghazni
Monday, 9 July 2007

Just minutes before our helicopter swept into the dusty town of Miray, two rockets had struck just a few hundred metres away and wounded a villager.

It was a sign that the American and provincial officials we had flown in with were going to face a tough audience.

The town in Andar district in southern Ghazni province is like many places in the Afghan outback: teetering between government and Taleban control, and it’s just 135km south east of Kabul.

This is where President Hamid Karzai was greeted with rockets by the Taleban when he arrived to address a meeting in June. No one was hurt, but the insurgents were sending out another warning about their growing strength in the region.

Unsafe

The rocket attack was just another episode in the violence that regularly visits the area with clashes between the insurgents and security forces happening almost daily. No one feels safe here.

Open support for the Taleban can get you arrested. Supporting the Afghan government can get you killed.

The climate of violence, intimidation and fear has stalled progress on badly-needed reconstruction efforts in the area, which is the largest district in the province.

Take, for example, education. Last year the insurgents closed down all 29 schools in the district, openly threatening the students and teachers.

“We’ve reopened 16 of them,” says Najib Kamran, director of education for Ghazni province.

“But just recently the education chief for the district got a death threat from the Taleban. Now he’s stopped coming to work.”

Even when the officials arrived in the district to inaugurate a new road recently – a seven-km stretch of road that cost a whopping $1.5m to build – local people were sceptical of the government’s efforts and believed too little was being done.

The Afghan and American officials urged a gathering of about 300 tribal elders and students to support the government, not the Taleban. They promised more reconstruction and security.

The tribal elders listened politely, but their frustration was plain to see.

“I welcome the building of this road,” said Haji Sahib, 60, one of the leaders gathered. “But we need much more here – clinics, schools, and water. Most importantly, we need security.”

Other villagers, like 38-year-old Shahbaz, complained that corruption was the biggest problem.

Corruption

“I voted for this government because I believed they would make our lives better,” he said. “But today, there is more corruption than ever before.”

Provincial governor Mirajudin Patan listened to their grievances, and agreed there remain many problems. But he insisted that a lot had been achieved.

“We have provided people with roads, clinics and schools, but the Taleban destroy them,” the governor said.

“But we don’t have enough ammunition such as heavy machine guns and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). And police salaries are low which leads to more corruption.”

The governor of the nearby Qarabagh district, agreed the problem was lack of resources.

“I have just 100 police to cover hundreds of villages, and protect an estimated 250,000 people,” said Khawaja Mohammad Siddiqi.

“Each Taleban fighting group of 12 has two heavy machine guns, RPGs and a lot of money; I don’t have any of that.”

Almost six years since the Taleban was toppled, even remote outposts like Andar not very far away from Kabul seem as far from finding peace and stability as ever.

Afghanistan lives in its villages, but for the moment, these villages are finding it hard to live.

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Written by afghandevnews

July 9, 2007 at 10:11 pm

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