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On Progress In Afghanistan

Girls and boys studying together, a novel approach
Girls and boys studying together, a novel approach
Who says Afghanistan has not made progress in the past 10 years? Though not by leaps and bounds, even a naive observer can see visible change in the country's politics, freedom of expression, human rights and even health, schooling, and communications.

A recent four-day sit-in by a group of legislators in front of the Afghan parliament is the latest example of the headway -- albeit marginal -- in the landlocked country beset by 30 long years of war and interference from regional as well as global powers.

To be sure, Afghanistan has severe problems, namely a precarious security situation. But this too, like several other problems, has less to do with Afghan society and more to do with the neighborhood. Too often, it is Afghanistan's neighbors' interests -- or the clash thereof -- that contributes to the suffering of Afghans.

True, the international community has not succeeded in achieving its security objectives. But, Afghans have courts, a police system, an army, and an elected president and parliament dispensing their day-to-day functions. There is corruption and cronyism, and the elections are not up to Western standards, but in all of this there is progress.

A majority of Afghans now prefer even the corrupt government and rigged elections over the rule by powerful men, warlords or the Taliban. To many, a corrupt President Hamid Karzai is far better than a pious Mullah Mohammad Omar. People are no longer hanged or stoned to death in public, hands are not chopped off in playgrounds, women are (generally) not beaten for failing to cover themselves or venturing outside without being accompanied by a male relative.

Millions of Afghan girls and boys are now enrolled in schools, colleges, and universities; women hold public office, and given more professional opportunities; the media is free and vibrant; hundreds of kilometers of roads have been -- or are being -- constructed; most Afghans have access to mobile phones with thousands using Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet generally; health centers are being built even in remote villages and voices being raised against human rights violators.

With all of these things, there are certainly glaring issues. Mobile phones are hardly a panacea to development problems, maternal health care remains inaccessible for thousands, and corruption causes many development projects to sit idle. But, to say Afghanistan is not making progress -- as many are prone to opine -- is both not true and an affront to the people working tirelessly to improve the lives of Afghans.

Had the late Ahmad Shah Masud and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar opted for talks instead of guns, rockets, and tanks, and staged peaceful protests like the Afghan legislators, the history of Afghanistan could have been without its Taliban chapter. To many, this may not matter a lot, but change is coming and it is visible. What is needed at this point from the international community and the United States is not to leave Afghans and Afghanistan at the crossroad and let the change fully mature.

-- Daud Khattak