The question now is whether the international community will have the imagination – and commitment – to remedy the situation. As it stands, the coalition death toll – more than 2,800 – is fast approaching the number of people who perished in 9/11, while insurgents are operating in areas where they never did before.
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.