Afghanistan: Hope loses out to fear

Anxiety has replaced the hope of a new beginning in Afghanistan’s turbulent history two years after Hamid Karzai was made president of the war-torn country with the support of a US-led coalition.

An upsurge in armed attacks and bombings that has spread from the restive southern provinces - where remnants of the Taliban, the previous rulers, have regrouped with deadly results - to the capital city Kabul, have shaken people’s confidence in the government’s ability to provide essential security. A bomb exploded on October 10 in a Kabul neighbourhood during the early morning rush hour, a day after the second anniversary of Karzai’s smooth elevation to full-fledged president, sending widening ripples of fear among an anxious populace. The target of the attack was a police bus. No one was killed, and most of the injured escaped with minor wounds. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the low-intensity bomb that was strapped to a bicycle and set off by remote control.

“The security situation is worrying,” said a junior official in the Education Ministry who said she returned to Afghanistan with much hope three years ago. “Now with bombs going off every other day in Kabul, there’s no knowing what will happen.”

Daily commuters are talking of finding alternative routes, and offices are considering various possibilities, like changing schedules so that employees who are bused to work can avoid the traffic jams that have become common on Kabul’s crowded roads. “Avoid driving behind UN or police vehicles, because together with the US military convoys, they have been the target of bombings in Kabul so far,” Aziz Hakimi, executive editor of the The Killid Group, an independent media organisation that owns two magazines and a radio station, told an editorial meeting this week.

Few people have faith in either Karzai’s or the combined US or NATO’s impressive firepower that has rolled into Afghanistan to crush the Taliban-led opposition forces on the ground. “A weak centre, and interference on our borders are the reasons for the escalating violence. The government doesn’t have a strategy,” said an instructor at Kabul University. There are murmurs of disaffection even in Parliament, where internal security was a subject of discussion this week.

A parliamentarian from Kabul, identified as Joinda, told Killid Radio later: “The government gets weaker day by day.” According to another lawmaker, Yazdan Panst, one of 68 women in the 249-member Afghan National Assembly, government employees are to blame for the widespread disillusionment. “Government staff is busy making use of their positions. They don’t think about the people,” she said in an interview with the 24-hour FM channel in Dari and Pashto, the two main languages spoken in the country.

Sceptics warn that the proposed joint jirgas (assemblies) of tribal elders living in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to wean them away from the influence of the Taliban and its supporters may end up being hijacked by their representatives.

Reports from Peshawar indicate that the truce announced in North Waziristan Agency by Musharraf on September 5 has only further strengthened the hands of the Pakistan Taliban at the expense of tribal elders and political administration. — IPS