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Afghanistan: Five Years After The Taliban
December 22, 2006 11:19 GMT
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A woman in Kabul shows that she voted in Afghanistan's October 2004 presidential election (AFP) - In the five years since the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghanistan has seen several major political achievements -- approving a new constitution in January 2004, choosing a president in October 2004, and electing a new parliament in September 2005. The result is a motley legislature intended to ensure that Afghanistan's many regions, factions, tribes, and ethnic groups are represented.
Delegates discuss issues at the Loya Jirga in Kabul in December 2003 (epa) - Efforts to balance the numerous demands reflect the government's limited power. Major cities are under its control, but beyond the capital, its authority is shaky. In the south, an insurgency is directly aimed against the central authorities; in the north, loyalty to local warlords makes it difficult for the government to impose its will.
A U.S. soldier patrols the 19th-century Khir-Kot fort in Paktika Province in October 2004 (epa) - When the U.S.-led international coalition force overthrew the Taliban, it secured the major cities, but elsewhere focused on hunting the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, rather than on establishing order and maintaining day-to-day security. In 2006, insurgents stepped up activities in the south and southeast, prompting NATO to increase its presence in four southern provinces substantially.
A Pakistani soldier monitors the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2005 (epa) - The challenge of uprooting the insurgents is hard because many are based in tribal parts of Pakistan. The ease with which they cross the long border has aggravated long-standing tensions. Pakistani forces launched major operations in 2006 in border areas, but suspicions remain in Afghanistan that some in Islamabad are keen to keep Afghanistan a weak client state.
Afghans harvesting opium poppies in Kandahar Province (AFP) - Warlords across the country are using drug money to build up their power. The government is trying to eradicate poppy production, but most of the drugs come the south where the government's control is most nominal. Five years later, there is a danger, the UN warns, that Afghanistan will become a narco-state. Heroin production is feeding corruption, instability, and a growing number of Afghan addicts.
An Afghan man waits for customers at a market in Jalalabad (epa) - The government is trying to encourage Afghans to turn to other crops and businesses, such as carpet making. But in rural areas, even when there are other crops, getting them to market remains difficult, as the road system is poor. Still, there are important signs of an economic revival and some areas in the west and north have seen a substantial recovery.
An elderly fruit vendor sets up shop inside a bullet-riddled car in Kabul (epa) - The government raises pitifully little in taxes. Yet it faces a reconstruction effort of huge proportions. Inevitably, Afghanistan is critically dependent on foreign aid to develop, and roughly one in 10 Afghans still requires food aid to subsist.
Afghan children carry water to their homes in Kabul (epa) - Much foreign aid has been promised – $4.5 billion in January 2002 and another $4.5 billion in March 2004 – but not all of it has been delivered. The scale of the need is evident in figures that, for example, say that fewer than one in four Afghans has access to safe drinking water. And, in a country prone to drought, and earthquake, additional emergency aid may always be needed.
A boat lies on the bottom what used to be the Kargah Lake, dried up after three years of drought (AFP) - The country's environment was shattered by decades of war. In 1980, around 3 percent of the country was wooded; the figure is now less than 1 percent. Most of its wildlife – including leopards and eagles – is now endangered. Pitiful rainfall and the collapse of the water-management system resulted in chronic drought that displaced millions between 1998 and 2002.
An Afghan widow and her children at the Hazara cemetery in Kabul (epa) - Afghanistan lacks a clear set of laws. The new constitution embraces secular principles, but also states that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." Resolving any contradictions depends on the Supreme Court – dominated by religious conservatives.
A man walks a horse carrying his wife through a street devastated by an earthquake in 2002 (AFP) - Under the constitution, women enjoy equal rights. In practice, the lives of women, particularly in the countryside, follow old patterns: no schooling, early arranged marriage, and – in a shocking number of cases – death during childbirth. Still, there have been improvements: girls can go to school, and women can work, appear on television, and sing in public.
Girls study in an open-air class while waiting for a new school to be built in the background (epa) - In 2001, the Afghan education system barely existed. There has been some improvement, but Afghanistan remains largely illiterate -- more than three in five adults cannot read or write. Moreover, one of the early achievements – the return of at least a few girls (6 percent or so) to the schoolroom – is now in reverse in parts of the country, with the Taliban targeting schools.
Afghan refugees ready to leave Pakistan for Afghanistan in March (epa) - Refugees who returned after the war found their homes destroyed, their fields barren, and the country's infrastructure in ruins. Still, it was undoubtedly freer than when they left and, in most areas, more peaceful. They returned in massive numbers -- the government puts the figure at 4.5 million -- to help rebuild their homeland.
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