Kabul abuzz with activities but Afghans uncertain about future by Delawar Jan

KABUL: Afghanistan’s capital Kabul calmly sits among barren mountains, with unexpected but delightful peace in its streets. Tranquility of the Yaftali Street in Share-Naw would allow one to hear warbles of birds, droning of passenger planes and sounds of hammers from an under-construction building. Fear of violence scarcely exists.

Kabul hardly appears to be the capital of a country where around 50 countries led by the US have been fighting the battle-hardened Taliban for the last 12 years. Life seems to be in full swing in the city as bazaars are abuzz with business activities and roads occupied by vehicles that are crazily driven to the surprise of many. Traffic jams give an idea of rush on the roads.

Construction of multistory commercial buildings on almost every street and elegant townships on the outskirts of the city indicates boom in construction sector. People attend offices and businesses without fear of violence. Even people of other countries, including Pakistan, are finding Kabul as destination for job.

Another event that substantiates the impression that life has returned to normalcy in Kabul is a football match. Under the surveillance balloon that oversees movements in the city, a football stadium erupts in cheers as spectators support their respective teams in the much-hyped and televised Afghanistan Premier League, launched recently.

However, military helicopters clattering over the city and presence of heavy military assets at the airport provide the signs of war in Kabul. Police check-posts at almost every square, blocked roads and embarrassing body search at all important sites reinforce the feeling of being in a war-struck country.

Despite some of the positive signs, Afghans predict a bleak future of the country. The US and its allies have failed to quell Taliban resistance in Afghanistan which unsettles people in Kabul. They fear Taliban could menace the hard-won but fragile peace in the city as foreign combat forces are preparing to leave the country in 2014. The people have no, or little, confidence in the Afghan National Army and police to withstand ferocious Taliban attacks.

“Security situation in the country is poor even the US is in charge of it. Kabul is not Afghanistan. Other provinces have been in grip of violence,” said Abdul Karim Sadiqi, who hails from Kabul. “In my understanding, the situation in Afghanistan will further deteriorate after the US withdrawal,” he added.

Omar Gul, who hails from Maidan Wardag, is also worried about the post-2014 Afghanistan. “I am afraid Afghanistan will see scenes from the past after the foreign forces pull out. Afghan National Army is not capable to hold control over the country which worries me that civil war could again start. And of course peace in Kabul will also be menaced by violence,” he said.

A report of the International Crisis Group last week said the country is plagued by factionalism and is not ready to assume responsibility for security. “There is a real risk that the regime in Kabul could collapse upon NATO’s withdrawal in 2014,” Candace Rondeaux, the ICG’s senior Afghanistan analyst was quoted as saying.

Analysts in Afghanistan predict that 2014 will cause uncertainty in the country as Afghan leaders lack vision for the future. Mujib Mashal, a leading Afghan journalist, said Afghanistan had over 300,000 police and army combined which was enough but the quality was lacking. “About our security forces, the big question is that whether they can sustain, whether they can fight on the ground without the air support from the Americans and coalition forces and whether they can do [operations] on their own,” he said.

He said the Afghan leadership had no clear vision about the country and felt Kabul would not be prepared to take over charge in 2014. “One day we are telling the security forces to kill the Taliban, they are the enemy. The next day we are saying they are our friends, our brothers,” he said. “So soldiers on the ground are confused. You don’t know how clear my mission is. Is this guy my enemy or my brother, my friend,” he added.

Muahammad Sarwar Ahmadzai, who works on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Regional Study Centre of Afghanistan, agrees that security situation would deteriorate but shrugged off concern of civil war as misplaced.  “We had [security] problems before and will continue to have them in future, though we understand they will increase after the US withdrawal. But concerns about a civil war are groundless,” he argued.

Nato and Afghanistan government reject such predictions and assert the Afghan army and police are being trained well and would better fight Taliban than the international troops as they were familiar with the terrain and people.

“Fundamentally, Nato is confident that the army and police in Afghanistan will be capable of doing the job [of undertaking the security responsibilities] after 2014 because we see them growing everyday now in their skills and experience,” said Dominic Medley, a spokesman for the Nato in Afghanistan.

He said the Afghan army had demonstrated skills in major attacks in Kabul where they led the operation to finish the attackers. He added that it was leading major operations around the country which gave alliance members the confidence that they were capable of fighting the Taliban.

He said the international community had invested billions of dollars and so much effort for a shared goal which was a peaceful, secure, prosperous [and] stable Afghanistan. “Why would we make all our effort to be in vain just to let Afghanistan collapse,” he wondered. The Nato spokesman said the alliance would continue the training, advising and assistance of the Afghan security forces.

“Afghanistan has come a long way  over the past 10 years in terms of establishing democracy, in terms of strengthening economic institutions, police and army, in terms of the vast gains we have made in education, in healthcare, in infrastructure development [and] building our economy,” said Janan Mosazai, Afghanistan Foreign Ministry spokesman. “Afghanistan is never going to go back to 1990s,” he added.

Concern about economy is also widespread. “Our economy is right now totally dependent on donor money and international aid. There has been no vision laid out for the economic sustainability after 2014,” Mujib Mashal said.

“If we compare this year with last year, I would say that the business has dropped by 60 per cent,” said Omar Gul, who has invested 30,000 dollars in garment business.

Nato spokesman, however, said the international community had pledged up to 16 billion dollars for Afghanistan and the country could also tap its resources. “So you wouldn’t expect some kind of massive economic collapse,” he hoped.

Originally published in The News International




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