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Page last updated at 07:13 GMT, Tuesday, 19 June 2007 08:13 UK

Afghan villagers answer your questions

Nearly two years ago, BBC News website readers put their questions to people in a village north of the capital, Kabul, where the Taleban had destroyed many homes during the civil war.

Shaista and brother

Since we met the villagers in September 2005, international aid pledges to the country have risen to more than $10.5bn (5.9bn). But corruption has got worse, and the Taleban have been fighting back.

Our reporter Soutik Biswas revisited the village of Asad Khyl to find out how life has changed during the last two years. Here, villagers answer questions sent to them by readers.


Are things improving? Is there safety, shelter, enough food and water? Roy, Kansas, US

RAHMAT GUL, teacher: In our village, security has actually improved a bit. But living conditions haven't changed much. People are poor, there are no jobs and the crop is poor because of lack of water.

I have a job as a teacher and my salary is about US$60. It is not enough to maintain my family.

Rahmat Gul
Rahmat Gul - inflation is now a big issue

In my opinion, one good way to improve our lives is to provide us opportunities to export our grapes and raisins because they are of a very good quality.

MOHAMMED SHARIF, village chief: Rahmat is right, but I think a better way to bring prosperity to our village is to set up factories, which make fruit juices.

We can sell our good fruit to these factories, and residents can get jobs there. So it will solve the problem of unemployment and our farmers can make money too.

RAHMAT GUL: Unfortunately, not much has been done in our village. Out biggest problem is water. We just don't have enough water to irrigate our land.

We had two wells when you last visited us. Since then, the government has dug out two more wells.

Inflation has gone up and food costs more in the market.

A bag of flour used to cost 900 Afghanis ($19) two years ago, today it costs 1400 Afghanis (US$30). Five kilograms of vegetable oil used to cost 200 Afghanis (US$4) two years ago, now it costs 340 Afghanis (US$7). Beef costs more too - from 120 Afghanis (US$2.5) for a kg of meat two years ago, it has now gone up to 200 Afghanis (US$4).

We need more water to irrigate our fertile land. With enough water we can have two crop seasons - one to grow paddy (rice), and the other - to grow grains and fruits. Do you know that we can easily grow peach, apricot, pomegranates, apple, pears, watermelons, cherries and grapes?

This used to be a very fertile area before the Soviets bombed our irrigation canals. I had apple trees full of the fruit, my brother had two dozen peach trees at home. Now things are different.

MOHAMMAD SHARIF: There was a time before the Soviets invaded us Asad Khyl was so prosperous that we used to feed poor people coming to the village.

RAHMAT GUL: The government did build a canal, which passes through the village, but it does not help irrigate our land. The water is of no use to us - there is no way we can channel it from there to our lands.

Shukrullah
Shukrullah - now teaches football at school

There have been a few minor achievements though - when you visited us last, we did not have electricity. Now a generator has been installed in the village, which supplies us with electricity for five hours between 7 pm and 11 pm every day. We have to pay 75 Afghanis ($1.55) for every light bulb a month.

With electricity available, 60% of the people in the village have television sets and have more entertainment, compared to only listening to the radio.

Television has made us more aware, and better informed. When we see TV, we realise how backward we are. At the same time, we want to preserve our Islamic values.

SHUKRULLAH, student: I love watching educational programmes and music programmes on TV. TV has helped me understand mathematics better and has taught me some English.

Shukrullah, what kind of changes happened in your life since last time? What is your most urgent need now? Kamran, Birmingham

Map showing Asad Khyl
SHUKRULLAH: I am 20 years old now, I am studying in the sixth grade. I study Dari, geography, geometry, mathematics, English, Pashtun and history four hours a day at school. These days I also go to the local madrassa [religious school] in the morning.

I still want to become a civil engineer. I still help my father to weave carpets in my free time. We earn $170 for a carpet but it takes two months to weave one.

The one change that has happened is that I have become a football trainer at school. I always played football, but now I teach the game to the youngsters.

What scares me is the joblessness that I see around me. Factories and new towns need to be built so enough jobs are created. I worry a lot when I see people hanging around with no work.

It is often argued that Afghanistan was peaceful during the Taleban rule, and that after their fall, the country has not enjoyed the same level of peace and stability. Do you agree? Do you see the presence of foreign forces important for the future of Afghanistan or should the Taleban be invited to participate in a broad national government? Farid Mamundzay, Birmingham, UK

RAHMAT GUL: You are partly right. People did enjoy peace and stability. But Taleban laws were harsh and draconian. Now the laws are within the framework of a democracy and if we implement them we could have more peace and security.

To your second question - I think foreign forces should coordinate their operations with Afghan forces in a bigger way to avoid civilian casualties.

The thing is that if you invite the Taleban to join a broad-based national government, there will be no need for foreign troops in the country at all. It would not be such a bad idea, though I wonder how the Taleban would react to such a proposal.

It would be a good idea to declare an amnesty for all the indigenous Taleban and bring them into the mainstream of politics. The foreign Taleban should be kept out.

What are your hopes for an end to corruption and fighting? Anne Thorpe, Conder, Australia

RAHMAT GUL: Corruption has become a big problem in Afghanistan. It openly mocks the laws. I haven't been affected personally, but I keep hearing stories of how deep-rooted and wide-spread it is.

MOHAMMAD SHARIF: I can tell you some stories about how corruption is ravaging our society.

Two months ago, a judge in Qarabagh district [Asad Khyl is in Qarabagh] was caught taking a 10,000 Afghani (US$210) bribe from a man in return for forging some land documents. The man complained to the shura [village council] and the judge was caught and sacked by the villagers.

Mohammad Sharif
Mohammad Sharif - the village was very prosperous before the Soviets
When I became village chief last year, I went to Kabul to get a letter of approval about my position from authorities. The officer made me wait for a couple of days, and then he demanded a bribe for the letter.

Whenever you visit government offices, employees are telling you, 'shirni bee', which means 'give me sweets.' 'Sweets' is a euphemism for a bribe. So 'shirni' has become a dreaded word in Afghanistan now.

The only way to curb corruption is to punish officials. But the salaries of government workers should also be increased. They are paid too little, so there is a lot of incentive to take bribes.

Are you happy by the efforts by the government to improve the condition of the people? Ritesh, Hyderabad, India

RAHMAT GUL: I think that the government has done a fairly decent job. They have built some roads and schools, provided some electricity. Twenty four new schools have been opened in the Qarabagh district alone.

But the progress is very slow, and a lot more needs to be done.

The international community should help more. They should give aid directly to the government, and not through NGOs to help us. I know that people working with NGOs have very high salaries, so most of the aid actually goes back to the foreign countries as pay and prerequisites.

The government should set up an independent commission, which will be responsible for receiving aid and allocating it to various departments. The commission should have honest, patriotic people at the top so that the money is not stolen or misused.

How passionate do you feel about your right to vote and about building a democratic Afghan society? Savannah, Houston, Texas

RAHMAT GUL: Democracy only in name is nonsense. It should be put into practice. Democracy alone does not deliver much. People should work hard and be honest.

Yes, I am passionate about my right to vote. I use my vote carefully - I must know the person and his work well enough to vote for him. I voted for Hamid Karzai in the presidential election. I also voted in the parliamentary election.

What do you see as the biggest threat to the future of Afghanistan - the Taleban, the West, corruption, illiteracy, poverty, drought or something else? Kate Mather, London, England

HAJI ABDULLAH SALEH, village elder: The Taleban is the biggest threat to the future of Afghanistan. They are not powerful enough to topple the government, but they are a big problem. Pakistan and Iran are supporting them with arms and funds.

Haji Abdullah Saleh
Haji Abdullah Saleh - the Taleban are bad for Islam
They don't want the country to stand on its own feet, prosper and become peaceful. They destroyed most of the country, and their legacy is all about burning schools, gardens and houses. This is unacceptable and it is against Islamic law.

The Taleban have made a comeback in the past year, they have re-grouped. You can even see them in the north of the country these days. They have begun using suicide attackers. This is another big worry. Recently, they killed some schoolgirls. All this is all very worrying.

It seems people are supporting the Taleban on the pretext that the Taleban are defending Islam against Western values. Do you agree? Ezra Kaimukilwa, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

HAJI ABDULLAH SALEH: The Taleban has trampled upon the good name of Islam. They don't observe Islamic values and laws. They are against education.

If they served Islam, people would not have hated them, and they would have succeeded. They don't even have the power to defend Islam, let alone protect it. They get outside support to create trouble.

Do you still think Americans can establish democracy in Afghanistan? Is President Hamid Karzai acting independently or as a puppet of US? Saran , Bremen, Germany

HAJI ABDULLAH SALEH: American style democracy is not going to work in Afghanistan. Our democracy has to be moulded by ourselves, not any outsider.

As for Karzai - yes, he cannot act independently. He had to release people who worked against Islam because of pressure from foreign powers - the Muslim man who converted to Christianity was released.

Villagers having lunch
Village men discuss changes over lunch
He could not secure the release of the kidnapped Afghan translator of an Italian journalist, who was also taken hostage by the Taleban. The journalist was freed, but the translator lost his life.

Karzai should be the puppet of the Afghan people, instead he is the puppet of the US.

Has support for the Taleban risen due to lack of improvements in daily life? Karen DeBiase, Chester, VA

HAJI ABDULLAH SALEH: Support for Taleban is coming from countries like Pakistan.

There is a big rumour these days that the US is actually helping the Taleban to keep the war going. The Taleban were created by the US and the US has all the powers in the world, so people here find it very difficult to believe that the US can't take them out. It just doesn't make sense.

Would you like to see the grandson of the previous king back in power and would he able to unite the country? Simon, London, UK

HAJI ABDULLAH SALEH : It is possible. People are still fond of the royal family. The grandson of the former king is a member of a coalition of parties opposed to the government. It is possible for the royal family to reunite the people. They will get a lot of support from the people.

Shaista, have you been able to carry on going to school and do you still plan to be a doctor? Thone, Liege, Belgium

SHAISTA: I am in grade seven in school. I want to reach my dream and still wish to become a doctor and help my people.

Shaista
Shaista - still dreaming of being a doctor

There are still a lot of difficulties I am facing - I don't have shoes, I don't have proper school clothes, I don't have enough books.

I bought eight books for school recently. I needed more, but I could afford to pay only for eight. Each book cost 20 Afghans (US$0.40). This was from my own money that I had saved.

Now we have electricity for few hours in the evening, and I watch TV, some educational programmes and Indian serials.

I've never missed a class.

But my father tells me these days that I should stop going to school from next year.

My father and other people say girls don't go to school, only boys do. But I want to continue, study medicine and graduate. It is my dream to become a doctor.

Are there more opportunities for women to work and support themselves? What kind of education opportunities do they have? Tammy Georgeson, Salt Lake City, US

LAL BIBI, widow : There are no opportunities for women to work here. Women always stay home.

If men are jobless at least they can go to bazaar and find work there. But for women like us there are no opportunities.

Lal Bibi
Widow Lal Bibi - no aid gets to me

I have tried a lot to find some work for myself, but I have not succeeded.

I need to do some tailoring, embroidery and literacy courses, which would be helpful to earn a living.

There is absolutely no opportunity for education for women. We have not received any aid from foreign NGOs.

In fact no-one is helping women here. If the government or the NGOs that are working for women establish some courses in tailoring, embroidery and literacy, that can help women to make a living.

I did a month-long training course last year, conducted by a Dutch NGO on how to keep cows and livestock.

I passed the training, borrowed some money and bought a cow. I collect fodder for the cow from the gardens.

I sell the milk in the market to buy sugar, tea and basic food.

That is not enough for me. Everything is expensive.

I can work as a tailor, embroider, carpet weaver. But there is no such opportunity. Life is too difficult for me.




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