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Last Updated: Monday, 16 April 2007, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Afghanistan's tipping point?

Freelance journalist Massoumeh Torfeh gauges feelings on the direction Afghanistan is taking.

Afghanistan old man
The Afghan population is facing despair and anguish
At least four major provinces in southern Afghanistan are now partially controlled by the Taleban.

General Mohamad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the ministry of defence, confirms that large parts of Helmand, Zabul, Uruzgan and Kandahar are now working to the orders of the Taleban.

He says they are now moving towards the capital, Kabul, with suicide bombings and attacks around the outer circles of the city, mainly targeting westerners, becoming a regular feature.

Danish Karokhel, director of the Pazhwak news agency, who travels regularly to the southern districts, says the Taleban have a verbal agreement with district governors that they work to their command.

In addition, three more provinces in the south are being partially controlled by the militants, he adds.

Frightened

Mr Karokhel says in four districts of Ghazni schools have been shut down - a clear indication that the Taleban have been giving orders to the governors and threatening local populations.

"People are frightened to go out of their houses, specially at nights, because they feel the presence of the Taleban," Mr Karokhel says.

He says the main problem is not the strength of the Taleban but the fact that the presence of the government is so thin in these provinces.

In Zabul for instance, Mr Karokhel says, the government control is limited to an area of about 6 miles (10kms) in the centre of the city.

In Paktika and Khost - close to the border with Pakistan - district governors do not dare to stand up to the Taleban.

Wreckage from Kabul suicide attack
Suicide attacks are becoming a regular feature in Kabul

"They feel frightened even to shake hands with ordinary people," he says.

The same tension and fear could be felt in Kabul where persistent unemployment and lack of housing are creating frustration amongst the population.

Despite the heavy presence of the international community, little improvement is visible in the capital city.

'Tipping point'

It continues to look desperately poor with badly damaged roads, blocked gutters overflowing with sewage and rubbish covering most pavements.

There is a serious shortage of public housing and refugees, who have been promised housing, are still waiting four years on.

Despair and anguish is written on the faces of the unemployed, desperate to earn a livelihood.

Ashraf Gahni Ahmadzai, the influential ex-finance minister who is now advising President Hamid Karzai and the international community, says Afghanistan may have reached, what he calls, the "tipping point".

Mr Ahmadzai warns that the population could turn against the international community if the economy is not improved upon soon and problems of housing and unemployment are not dealt with immediately.

"A Talib is an unemployed youth," he says.

But, on the whole, Mr Ahmadzai is optimistic.

"Nato has a clear victory in the south," he says adding that "though this may be tragic for the independent-minded Afghans".

Taleban fighters in Zabul
Taleban fighters in Zabul want the American forces out

He says the Taleban planned to turn Kandahar into a second front but they have not succeeded.

"They also wanted the international community out" and that has not been possible either, he adds.

Most of all, he says, the Taleban have failed to win over the people. "Nobody wants them back," he says.

Mr Ahmadzai says the small successes the Taleban have had in some districts has been due to unemployment and poverty.

He blames the UN agencies for "their inefficiency, lack of accountability and transparency".

He says while the political side of the UN functioned well in Afghanistan, the agencies have failed.

Mr Ahmadzai accuses the UN agencies of corruption, and wasting donor money meant for Afghanistan.

He says these agencies have never given a systematic audit of their spending.

He believes that in Afghanistan, the UN should be reduced to just one office with limited resources.

Clear vision

Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's former foreign minister, also stresses on the importance of this "tipping point".

He says people are still hopeful but this may be "the last chance" for the authorities.

"What is desperately needed is a clear vision," he says.

Afghan women line up for food aid
Afghan women line up for food aid

Dr Abdullah, who was the right-hand man to the military commander of the Northern Alliance Ahmad Shah Masud, says "Nato will not defeat the Taleban if there is no comprehensive strategy for government and public support".

He says "crucial problems such as unemployment, housing shortage, and drugs have persisted and people will not remain patient forever".

Hanjörg Kretschmer, the head of European Commission delegation in Afghanistan, agrees.

But he warns that the international community is also beginning to feel the fatigue.

Mr Kretschmer says the fact that the international community has to remain in fortified compounds is an indication that perhaps the population at large is beginning to lose trust in their ability to take Afghanistan to a positive conclusion.

Mr Kretschmer argues that conditions are, of course, very complicated but that a lot more could be achieved if communication with the population was improved and the international community coordinated its efforts more systematically.

But, ambassador Kretschmer disagrees with Dr Abdullah on this being the last chance.

"After the last chance there are always many other chances to tackle challenges ahead," he says.

Massoumeh Torfeh is a freelance journalist and specialist on Afghanistan. She is a former BBC journalist and has also worked for the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan and been a consultant in the office of President Karzai.


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