Afghanistan a Long Way from Peace
Remains of U.S. military forces from the war in Kandahar. (Photo: Cassandra Nelson)
A year has passed since a U.S.-led coalition force attacked Afghanistan and helped replace the Taliban-regime. Despite new leaders and efforts to rebuild, however, the people still do not live in peace.
Bombs continue to threaten civilian lives and the Vice President of the country was assassinated. An attempt was also made on the life of the new President, Hamid Karzai.
"Afghanistan is a nation made of the bits and pieces no one else wanted," says Mohammad Abdul, a resident of Kandahar who is helping with the reconstruction of the city's historical mosque. "For this reason, it will always be difficult to have real peace here."
A Country of Factions
The people of Afghanistan are split into numerous tribes and ethnic factions with different languages, different cultural practices, and different warlords. In the north, two warlords claim control: one Uzbek and one Tajik. The west is governed by a different Tajik warlord.
Haji Qadir, a Pushtoon warlord who ruled in the east and was appointed Vice President by President Karzai, was assassinated in July. His brother, Haji Din Mohammad, is now the Governor.
Gul Agha Shirzai, a Pushtoon, governs the south. He met with President Karzai and spoke proudly of the security in Kandahar. A week later, an assassin's bullet meant for the Afghan President grazed Gul Agha.
Another obstacle to securing peace and stability in Afghanistan is its geography. It is a region of rugged terrain with few good roads. Harsh winter conditions also make it hard to travel. The country has no unified communication system, aside from satellite telephones, which few Afghans own. Gathering support for a national agenda is nearly impossible under these conditions.
Afghanistan also has no viable national army. The meager Afghan army is being trained by American, British, and French forces, but will not be fully ready until June 2004. The international peacekeeping force, ISAF, only operates in Kabul, leaving the warlords in the rest of the country on their own. Most Afghans, including Karzai, would like ISAF to expand forces to the provinces to help provide security. The U.S. and others have refused the request so far.
This year more than 1.5 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan. They come home with almost nothing and must rebuild their homes, find food and water, and begin to remake their lives. Job opportunities are scarce. Farmers sit idle because the drought continues to make planting difficult. Herders have lost most of their livestock due to disease and drought. The factories have all been destroyed.
Although boys and girls can now attend school, many villages do not have schools or teachers for them. The frustrations of the people of Afghanistan are growing, making the delicate political situation even more precarious.
As Mohammad Abdul finishes repainting a panel of the mosque he is rebuilding, he pauses and reflects: "We want peace. We are weary of war. But we need help. We need assistance in rebuilding our country and keeping security. If the United States leaves us this will all unravel. If Karzai is killed who will takeover? It will mean more war."