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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 17:30 GMT
Afghanistan: Is reconstruction working?

By Kylie Morris
BBC correspondent in Kabul

Street in Kabul after bombing
Reconstructing Afghanistan is a mammoth task
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the Afghan people are now free and the US is helping them to rebuild from the rubble of war and establish new institutions and democracy.

He made the comments ahead of a visit to Washington by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

But are the plans for reconstruction working?

On a hilltop in south-eastern Afghanistan a US infantry chaplain, dressed in desert fatigues with a pistol strapped to his thigh, prepares his men for unfinished business.

As part of a prayer service, a hymn can be heard and includes the words: "God can only use the soldier he can trust. Keep on the firing line. If you wear the crown bear the cross you must."

Searching

The soldiers are on a mission to hunt down former Taleban members.

They will scour caves for the next five days, enter villages and guide in air strikes.

It doesn't make sense to set up girls' schools when we don't have proper roads or bridges. There are no clinics. And all they worry about is girls' education
Mohammed Ahad
Konar villager
But as each day goes by, the Americans reinvent themselves in Afghanistan.

As well as fighting along the border with Pakistan, they are building schools and giving cash to hospitals.

They are shifting from deconstruction to reconstruction.

But their commander, Dan McNeill, says: "Reconstruction will facilitate the coming of greater security. The greater security helps me with my two major tasks - which are to capture or kill terrorists and train an Afghan national army. So I'm not nation-building."

The Americans say they still feel welcome here. After all they were the "liberators".

But they have not been speaking to the folk who live nearby in the province of Konar.

Resentment

One local resident explains: "We'd been sitting inside. Then we heard noises and came out and saw the American soldiers. They entered our house and humiliated us. They sent us outside and kept the women inside, telling them to be silent. If this happens again they'll see our anger."

Afghan girl at school
Should schooling for girls be a high priority?
In places like Konar, there is growing resentment of the Americans' lingering presence.

One Afghan minister recently said the greatest challenge facing the US in Afghanistan is convincing the people they are not like the Russians.

Another Konar villager, Mohammed Ahad, does not like the priorities inherent in the international programme for reconstruction.

"It doesn't make sense to set up girls' schools when we don't have proper roads or bridges. There are no clinics. And all they worry about is girls' education," he says.

Donald Rumsfeld says the goal in Afghanistan is not to engage in nation-building, it is to help the Afghans so they can build their own nation.

Five billion dollars has been promised but Afghans are impatient for change.

Poor planning

They complain, for example, that repairs to a major road between Kabul and Kandahar will take longer than it took to build.

A US troop and an Afghan villager
There is an uneasy acceptance of US troops
The editor of the Kabul Times, Shoaib Sharifi, highlights the return of refugees as an example of poor planning.

"They were encouraged to come home, over one and a half million refugees came to Afghanistan and they all just have nothing and they have increased the problems and the insecurity in Afghanistan," says Mr Sharifi.

There is a palpable fear that if there is war with Iraq, saving Afghanistan will be put to one side.

Even the UN's chief representative here, Lakhdar Brahimi, concedes there will be less time to devote to Afghanistan.

He says: "In post-conflict situations - would-be promises tend to be forgotten as time goes. And why should Afghanistan be different?"

Afghanistan has seen the outside world's interest strengthen and fade before and there is a sense this may happen again.

For Afghans the second round of the "war on terror" in Iraq, may just undo the gains of the first.


SEE ALSO:
Afghanistan's gun culture challenge
22 Feb 03  |  South Asia
'Stay in Afghanistan,' Karzai urges
12 Feb 03  |  South Asia
Can an Afghan army deliver peace?
03 Dec 02  |  South Asia
Afghanistan's unfulfilled dreams
13 Nov 02  |  South Asia


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