A crazy woman stalks the streets near Afghanistan’s
parliament. When a warlord’s rocket killed her family during the early 1990s
she lost her mind. Now she moves between the cars and people looking for it,
another of the living dead trapped in her own private hell.
She’s always around there somewhere: in front of the homes still wrecked after
they were destroyed more than a decade ago, next to the police station that
was torched by a mob last year, in the gutter as an MP cruises by in his SUV.
That’s how life is here. Every corner has its own pitiful story and the old
sorrow mixes with the new until it all becomes part of the same incessant sadness.
In December a man was shot in the center of Kabul, not far from the presidential
palace. His attackers stole the $25,000 they knew he would be carrying and left
his corpse to freeze in the evening air. A week earlier an infant spilt boiling
water over himself at home. He was buried in a simple ceremony soon afterwards.
Peace is only relative in a country where if the bombs and bullets don't get
you, something else will. The winter brings death from poverty and desperation,
spring adds intense violence to the mix.
Last week George W. Bush stood before an audience of neocons at the luxurious
Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C., and said
Afghans can now "begin to realize [their] dreams."
He praised the NATO-led forces, local soldiers and police for capturing and
killing terrorists. "Times have changed," he added. "Our work
is bringing freedom."
Speaking in London the day before, Tony
Blair claimed "the most remarkable progress" had been made. By
his side was Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who used the opportunity to thank
the British prime minister for giving him a cuddly toy to take to his newborn
son in Kabul.
Back here, the public clings to hope like a drowning person might hold onto
some driftwood during a hurricane. Almost everyone realizes the odds are stacked
against a happy ending.
Talk of gangs dressed in police uniforms smashing into houses and killing the
residents is surfacing in Kabul.
Threats against the occupation are spouted in the open now, not whispered behind
closed doors. Devout young men complain about alcohol and prostitution being
easily available, calling them a direct attack on Islam and a reason to join
Across the country people say the government is powerless and corrupt, the
parliament ruled by warlords. They wonder when the development they were promised
will actually start.
Last autumn an official at a large Western NGO told me he would not be surprised
if the situation gets so bad all foreigners have to leave within a year or two.
His colleague, who was tasked with helping plan the group’s potential evacuation,
feared the airport in Kabul would be inaccessible when the time came to flee.
Even press statements sent out by the NATO-led International Security Assistance
Force (ISAF) during recent weeks occasionally hint at reality.
One said troops mistakenly shot an Afghan who worked at their base in Paktika,
on the country’s eastern border.
Another acknowledged a local policeman had been killed in Kabul as a result
of action involving an ISAF patrol. It promised a thorough investigation.
A third described a vehicle approaching a roadblock at high speed in the southern
province of Helmand. Warning shots were fired at the ground only for them to
ricochet and fatally hit a passer-by.
Just last Saturday a suspected suicide bomber was gunned down in Kandahar.
When he was then checked for explosives it became clear he was unarmed. He later
died of his wounds.
At the time of writing, three more innocent people have been killed in two
separate incidents so far this week.
But these are still only a few examples of the civilian casualties caused by
ISAF since the year started. Each tragedy will be bitterly remembered by a population
still waiting for the peace, prosperity and freedom it is meant to have.
To growing numbers of Afghans, the NATO-led forces are an enemy similar to
the Russians who tore this country apart in the 1980s. People even blame suicide
attacks directly or indirectly on the soldiers.
Death comes cheap here. To go with the sadness, there is now fear and anger.
Spring lies around the corner and time is almost up.