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Neither heat nor gloom ... Afghan post office delivers

As the Afghan government struggles to develop, the post office has quietly managed to become one of the nation's most efficient institutions - and with extremely limited international assistance.

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Postal worker Abdul Hanan sells stamps at a post office in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Tom A. Peter

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Ten years ago, the Afghan postal service lay in near total ruin, undone by the nation's civil war. Sending a letter usually meant having to find someone traveling in the direction of the recipient willing to carry a note and hoping for the best.

Then, about four years ago, Ahmad Sher, a Jalalabad shopkeeper, noticed his city had a post office. On a whim, Mr. Sher, who loves listening to the radio, decided to send letters to several talk radio programs using the Afghan government postal service.

Like most Afghan 20-somethings who have grown up only knowing broken government institutions like the post office, he wasn't surprised at his friends' skepticism when he told them he planned to send the letters. "My friends made fun of me and said my letters wouldn't be read on the radio for a year," Sher says.

Sher and his friends were surprised, however, when the letters started making it through – regularly and in less than a week.

During the past 11 years, the United States has spent more than $60 billion on Afghan development to improve a government that still openly deals in corruption and often struggles to offer basic services to many of its citizens. Yet as the government struggles to develop despite an excess of foreign aid, the post office has quietly managed to become one of the most efficient national institutions – and with extremely limited international assistance.

"We saw a huge amount of money was spent on the Defense Min­istry, Interior Ministry, and the national intelligence service. Their job is to provide security for people, but 10 years later the security is getting worse, and people are still concerned about their safety," says Fouzia Roufi, a member of the Afghan parliament's telecommunication commission. "The Afghan postal service is a promising administration. Whenever we talk to people, they are happy about the services they provide."

"Friendly customer service" is not a phrase often heard in reference to government projects in Afghanistan, but, sure enough, post office workers in Kabul even go so far as to lick stamps for patrons.

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