Roads to democracy; Real life in Afghanistan is still troubling

The Washington Times


When I arrived in Kabul last week, the coalition military forces were in the midst of their worst fight with the Taliban since the regime was toppled. But the coalition forces didn’t inform the Afghani security forces in advance, and a significant number of civilians were killed during the operation. It’s a nightmare scenario for President Hamid Karzai,  who is still trying to form a functioning cabinet. In addition, combat continues daily outside Kabul. Coalition forces spokesman Tom Collins said “The Taliban has regained its influence,” especially in the southern part of the country. It is exactly the area where the government has yet to establish a presence.
“I swear to God, I’ll bring security to you,” Mr. Karzai said during a rare visit to Kandahar. “I am working on it. I am in talks with the international community, with Islamic countries.” But the moment Mr. Karzai leaves town, civilians are once again at the mercy of the Taliban.
The international community knows a pure military solution is not enough to deal with the Taliban. The real victory will come when people have better lives, and see that things are changing for the better.
Right now, however, Afghanistan has almost no infrastructure. “Kabul and six provinces that is about 30 percent of the population of this country, and they are seeing significant development,” said Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. In other words, outside those areas outside the compounds where organizations like NATO, the Combined Forces Command, the United Nations, and the International Security Assistance Force are based real life is quite troubling.
The residential neighborhoods near the mountains in Kabul have no infrastructure at all. They have only dirt roads. Most buildings are pockmarked with dozens of bullet holes. Most houses have no running water, much less electricity. Worse, there is no plumbing or sanitation; the smell is overwhelming.
One man, Alem Gul Gulgotay, showed me his family’s home. “Not even animals would live the way we do,” he said and it was hard not to agree with him. His wife, Gulalay Gulgotay, complained about the hundreds of black flies that she says have made her 6-month-old baby sick. Both adults are unemployed, and on a regular day they have hot water with sugar for breakfast and bread and water for lunch. They pray that they and their 10 children won’t get hungry for the rest of the day. Sometimes they get lucky.
“Our neighbor sent us a melon,” said a deeply thankful Mrs. Gulgotay.
Some in Kabul live in better conditions, but most appear to live like the Gulgotays. Imagine the living conditions in the rest of the country, where the Afghan government and the international community do not reach. That’s where Mr. Karzai should get support. Without security, rebuilding is not possible. And without reconstruction and infrastructure, even security won’t rescue these people.
“Look at the history of this country,” said Adrian Edwards. “Frequently it has been the battle between the modernizers and the old forces [and seculars and radical Islamists]. To a certain degree, the same thing is happening now.” Those who oppose modernization and development kill the road engineers and construction workers. But if the roads aren’t rebuilt, there’s very little hope for survival.
In Afghanistan, democracy comes through road construction. A group of 16 parliamentarians who met over a dinner with NATO’s civilian representative, Hikmet Cetin, all had the same message for him: “Let the international community hear us. Let Karzai hear us. We need the road to sell our products.” One parliamentarian from Herat said his province grows 72 different types of grapes, but since the only road between Kabul and Herat involves a trip through Kandahar, the trip to market is that much more difficult.
According to official figures, only 1,700 kilometers of asphalt road and 6,600 kilometers of gravel road have been rebuilt. The security situation forces road construction to move slowly. Meanwhile, allegations of corruption taint new government institutions. No system of checks and balances exists. The international community does not want to spend money knowing it won’t go toward its intended purpose.
The police don’t make a decent wage, which makes them susceptible to bribes from opium traffickers and the Taliban. One way to defeat the corruption is to test whether increasing the salaries of the security forces to a level where they can provide a decent standard of living would make a difference. But the international community isn’t putting full force behind its fight against corruption in that regard.
The Afghan people are fed up with the wars of outsiders. They need support from their neighboring countries, mainly from Pakistan. They want to look at the future with hope.
“Now is much better than the old times,” Mrs. Gulgotay told me.”Now we can walk on the streets. Before they did not want to see us around.” She supports the international community that helped the citizens reappear in the country’s life. But for progress to continue, economic development is key.
Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.

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