07/15/2009, 00.00
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The Afghan hell: for soldiers and the population

AsiaNews asks local sources about the situation in Afghanistan, 8 years after the arrival of Western forces. What emerges is a picture of a country where the military presence is not supported by adequate aid for civil reconstruction and where large sums of money are wasted without helping the people.

Kabul (AsiaNews) - "An inefficient reconstruction program, an inability to manage relationships with the local population": these are also the reasons behind the infinite deaths of western soldiers killed in Afghanistan, where they went only to help the country emerge from the Taliban dictatorship. Local sources speaking to AsiaNews have described the plight of Afghanistan. They also explain how, perhaps, many deaths could be avoided.   

The paratrooper Alessandro Di Lisio is the 14th Italian soldier to die, while the casualties among Western troops are hundreds. But the local population is more concerned about daily problems rather than the resumption of the Taliban who recently have increased their attacks.

In many parts of Kabul lacks drinking water. And 'perhaps the only world capital where electricity is rationed, in many quarters comes only a few hours a day. Many main roads are paved, but only if we turn to a secondary road ends in the mud and among the open-air sewers.

AsiaNews sources, requesting anonymity, explain that "the inefficiency of the reconstruction program is tragic.  Schools, health care, social assistance: the country is still devoid of adequate facilities in all areas crucial to a democracy. These are not military problems. "

According to the BBC in November 2008, the health care system is among the worst in the world. People are even dying of dysentery. The average life expectancy is 43, one child in every 5 dies before their 5th birthday. Maternal mortality is about one of every 50 births. But the figure is worse in some provinces: in Badahashan there is a death every 16 births.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the State has failed to give workers a pension, accident insurance, often there are no regular employment contracts.

Over 4.2 million children have returned to school, more than 35% of the pupils are girls. This is an important number given that the Taliban had forbidden women to go to school and that two thirds of those over 15 years of age cannot read nor write. But the situation is less impressive when one considers that the state has built few new schools.

Private groups are very active and have created many new schools and essential health care. But not the State. And even these groups are concentrated mainly in large cities, but for obvious security reasons.

"It seems that everything is stationary, that there is no real progress to bring improvements and real hope," explains our source. "And yet the money has arrived. But  it has been wasted.  Now, perhaps, even the Western governments are beginning to understand. In the last G8 they said that reconstruction must be carried out with the direct collaboration of Western countries, and not limited to a distribution of funds”.  

One example of waste and corruption: the Italian government has provided tens of millions of Euros to build a road from Bamiyan to Wardak. But Bamiyan was controlled by the Taliban and the road was “stopped” after only 2 kilometres. It is not known where the money went. "If only  – suggests our source – they had started instead from Wardak  working their way down to Bamiyan."

Corruption is widespread and frequent accusations are also made against the government of Karzai. The population is living on the edge: in 2007 the price of wheat alone increased by 70% and inflation 17%. The prices of oil and wood for heat in the cold winter are constantly on the rise.  "But – adds the source - the people see the United Nations officials go around in expensive cars with many employees. Kabul sees luxury villas growing like mushrooms, a sign that someone is getting rich".

A further problem is the relationship with the local population. Afghans are a proud people, who reluctantly accept others telling them what to do or how to govern their affairs. Effective control of territory is not possible without the support of the population.

"The hope - our sources claim - is that Western governments understand, finally, that a military presence is not enough to help the population embrace democracy."

Just yesterday the U.S. president Barack Obama, who is visiting the Netherlands, said he was optimistic because "more and more the Afghan army, the Afghan police, the courts of Afghanistan and the Government of Afghanistan are taking on increasing responsibilities for the protection of their defence. "

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