Jonathan Steele writes: Clouds of uncertainty and foreboding hang over Kabul as heavily as the traffic pollution, which obscures its once stunning vista of surrounding mountains. Eleven years after the west’s military intervention, the withdrawal of US, British and other international forces has started, but no one knows whether their departure will lead to more or less instability for a country that has been mired in civil war for almost 40 years.
Most Afghans say they are happy to see foreign troops depart, yet many are also concerned at the vacuum they will leave, in spite of international pledges of billions of dollars for the next decade. In seven visits to the country since the Taliban were toppled I have never found the Afghan mood so febrile and gloomy.
Disappointment and bitterness are widespread. Long gone are the high hopes sparked by regime change in 2001. The foreigners delivered far less than they promised. Kabul was transformed into a canyon of concrete blast walls and watchtowers shielding enclaves from which foreign diplomats only emerge in armoured vehicles for official contacts. Journalists, NGO staff and independent westerners who have lived here for years sense a rising mood of anger, and most have stopped going around Kabul on foot for fear of hostile looks, insults hissed in Dari or Pashto, or stones being thrown.
While Afghans blame government officials for creaming off much of the aid money, they blame western donors for doing too little to reduce corruption. US military commanders who handed out cash for “quick impact” projects are accused of encouraging it. [Continue reading…]