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Road to recovery in Afghanistan goes through the countryside

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True, the donors have helped bring about improvements, such as schooling for 7 million children, one third of them girls. Another 7 million, however, have yet to benefit from education. In many areas, health care is far better than 10 years ago, but many Afghans still don’t have even basic health services.

Various initiatives, such as paved roads and 24-hour electricity, have enhanced life in Kabul and other cities, and urban women can study at university or work outside the home. More than a quarter of the country’s parliament now consists of women, one of the highest ratios in the world.

However, for the majority of Afghans, especially in rural areas where many suffer from malnutrition and hunger, there is enormous frustration, even anger. Many wonder where the billions of dollars of aid money have gone. In certain parts, change has been brought about by cross-border trade and private investment, not development support.

Washington has yet to recognize that by allowing US military interests to dictate policy for the past decade, it has heavily undermined the recovery process. Numerous Afghans regard NATO forces as the “new occupation.” But they also fear the insurgents, who have infiltrated government ministries, including the army and police. Civilian casualties, the majority of them rebel-inflicted, are up compared to last year.

Even coalition claims of increased “kills” do not imply success in what has become a classic guerrilla war. If anything, wiping out key commanders with drone predators may actually impair peace talks by eliminating the very people who need to be included. Those who replace them, often young recruits brought up in Pakistan with no sense of Afghan culture, are far more intransigent than their 30-40-year-old elders.

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