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Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 09:41 GMT
Afghanistan's uneasy peace
women in kabul with burqas
Afghanistan women have gained some freedom

For Afghanistan this has been a year of glancing backwards, and looking longingly to the future.

In the past 12 months an untidy peace has settled in the country.

Afghans have counted in momentous first anniversaries - of the coalition air campaign targeting the Taleban and al-Qaeda, the fall of Kabul, the Bonn Conference and the installation of the leadership of Hamid Karzai.

Hamed Karzai
Hamed Karzai faces challenging times
While those events ushered in a new era of freedom for many Afghans, they have also thrown up a new round of challenges.

The international community has promised a great deal to rebuild Afghanistan but the changes are coming slowly.

Probably the most obvious has been the redenomination of the currency - so now Afghans spend notes worth a thousand times their old value.

School attacks

The government says the changeover has been a success - and has delivered up economic control to the proper financial institutions, rather than the warlords, who used to print their own money.

And there are social changes - but not at the fast pace breathlessly declared after the fall of the Taleban (within 24 hours it seemed the beards were off, the music was on, and the women out of burkha).

Yes, a quarter of girls are back in school, some women have returned to work, and the sounds of music and television permeate the dusty suburbs of Kabul.

But there are no women singers on radio, and musicians talk of beatings when they play.

Girl in Afghan school
There has been opposition to girls' schooling
Schools in two provinces have been rocketed and burnt - and night letters delivered to warn teachers of giving instruction to girls.

The women in burkha on the streets of the capital, Kabul, remain the luckiest. At least, they have the personal freedom to leave their homes.

For many, the changes wrought by the removal of the Taleban have not reached their private realms, inside the kitchen, and the living room.

Those women who wear only head-scarves on the streets, speak quietly of a fear of acid attacks, and of verbal harassment on the streets.

Squabbling factions

But it is not only women who walk the sharp edge of insecurity.

Outside the capital, private militias impose the will of powerbrokers, in contradiction of the wishes of the central government, and the president.

These men do their masters' work, by looting, imposing duties on trade, and 'protecting' and taxing the people.

Hamid Karzai has declared their existence illegal - at the same time as calling into existence a national army of 70,000 soldiers to protect and defend the state.

Marine in Afghanistan
Foreign soldiers continue to aid the Karzai government
But before anyone can take the guns from these warriors, there must be an intensive programme to train the new national army.

And it must be a certain kind of army - representative of all the many ethnic groups inside Afghanistan, and one which recognises Hamid Karzai as its commander-in-chief.

It will take time - the only question is whether there will be enough time for peace to take hold.

Nearly 5,000 soldiers from more than 20 countries patrol the streets of the capital, buying time for peace.

The International Security Assistance Force or Isaf is about to enter its third phase - under the direction of a combined corps from the Netherlands and Germany.

New dangers

The current Turkish command is going home, to wait and watch for war in Iraq.

The British, who held the first command, have reduced their presence to a few hundred troops.

Hopes that Isaf might expand beyond Kabul have now vanished. Instead, the United States has proposed the creation of Joint Regional Teams by coalition forces in a number of provincial capitals, working on civilian and military projects.

The proposal has left humanitarian agencies cold - worried about the blurring of lines between aid workers, and soldiers; between humanitarian assistance, and military intervention.

At the edges of the country, Taleban and al-Qaeda continue their activities, occasionally engaging the thousands of American soldiers still fighting 'Operation Enduring Freedom'.

There are many dangers - old and new - still facing Afghanistan. But after 23 years of war, the people are not likely to give up the chance of peace easily.

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05 Sep 02 | South Asia
03 Dec 02 | South Asia
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