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Page last updated at 15:31 GMT, Thursday, 7 February 2008

Afghans speak out on Nato and security

As Nato discusses the nature of its future mission in Afghanistan, people across the country discuss aspects of daily life and the impact of foreign troops.

Freedom for women
Provincial reconstruction
Healthcare and women
Rural hardship

Urban poverty
Education
Life in the North

FREEDOM FOR WOMEN

Yasamin is a 17-year-old schoolgirl from Kabul who also works as a football coach.

Yasamin and her sister Razia playing football when they were younger

Life is getting a little bit better. There are still explosions and bombs, but it is not like it was before. There is definitely more freedom.

First of all the men had a problem with my sister and I playing soccer. Now most of them are happy about it.

I am now coaching and I have about 15 students - but they are boys. Coaching girls was a problem because we didn't have a safe place for them to play. When they played outside people could see them and their families didn't want them to play like that.

Last year we played against the Isaf women's team. I have a lot of German and American friends. I believe they will help Afghanistan. There were too many problems before and I see the difference now.

Even so, I still have a lot of problems

At first, people didn't want a girl to coach boys. I was having problems finding a soccer field. Nobody would get me one until a male friend helped.

Sometimes when I am outside, boys say bad things to me.

But from problems 100% of the time, now there are problems 20% of the time.

Every day my country is changing.

PROVINCIAL RECONSTRUCTION

Journalist Zaki Shahamat believes Nato should put more money into provinces which have stability.

Zaki Shahamat
Zaki says Nato troops should focus more on stable provinces

I have seen dramatic changes in my country since Nato arrived but the changes haven't been balanced or spread equally throughout the provinces in this country.

It is those provinces where forces are stationed and where there is great turmoil which seem to get more money and reconstruction. Provinces which have seen less turmoil have also seen less funding.

The policy has been to reconstruct unstable areas to provide security. I think this has failed.

There are many reports that the Taleban are approaching Kabul. Another neighbouring province, Wardak, also has a strong Taleban presence.

My family live in Ghazni province and it experienced increased lawlessness. Last year South Korean aid workers were abducted in Ghazni. The Taleban are present but they operate as criminals. The real problems are in the outlying districts.

People who travel from the centre of the province to the districts have to pay - sometimes with their money, their cars, their property and sometimes with their lives.

Nato forces operate mainly in the centre of the province. They can't and don't do much for the people outside.

HEALTHCARE AND WOMEN

Pashtoon Azfar is the head of the Afghan Midwives Association. She believes there have been significant improvements in health provision for women.

Maternity hospital in Badakhshan
The number of midwives in Afghanistan has improved massively

There has been a considerable improvement in health areas. People in the outlying provinces have a better chance these days.

It is common knowledge that Afghanistan has one of the world's highest maternal mortality rates. We had 467 midwives in 2002 but now we have 2000 midwives and they are really very well qualified. We have developed a national midwifery curriculum and that has changed women's lives.

Security is an issue for all people. We worry for midwives who cannot join the health programme for security reasons.

Personally, I think the Nato troops are doing a good job in providing security. But there are still dangers. Terrorism is growing and poverty threatens lives.

These are the barriers all people struggle against but women especially suffer. If you go out of Kabul you can see that there is still great gender inequality.

The great challenges for healthcare occur in winter: this cold winter has really exacerbated the experience of already poor living conditions.

Despite all these problems it is very rare that midwives feel they have to leave the job because of security. Most of the midwives we trained are still working.

RURAL HARDSHIP

Omer Khan's job in telecommunications takes him to some of the most rural and remote parts of Afghanistan.

Omer Khan
Omer Khan says life is gruelling for people in remote rural areas

I have travelled to many of the remotest parts of 28 provinces in Afghanistan. I have visited the dangerous districts of Khost and Musa Qala. I have also seen how most people live in rural Afghanistan.

There is very little development. On the surface in the main towns, life appears to be normal but if you go a little bit further out there are people whose way of life hasn't changed for 40 years.

In Bamiyan, for example, there are mountains and in these mountains there are natural craters and holes. I found people living in these holes. They have little to eat, they travel very far to work. They transport water using donkeys. In another province I visited there was no more than a few kilometres of road.

The media tells you life is all change. In the city you see Nato troops and the help of foreigners. But in rural areas, there is still poverty and hunger.

Nato should focus on the national army and make them more powerful. They are in a better position to understand the problems of rural life.

URBAN POVERTY

Mustafa Qazemi lives in Kabul. He says he witnesses poverty and hardship every day.

A young boy begging for money
Children resort to desperate measures to earn money says Mustafa

I live in Kabul in an area called Afshar-e-Silo. The roads and houses don't look good here. This is because some 16 years ago, when I was only 4 years old, there was a civil war here. Hundreds of people died in that war.

Houses were destroyed, people lost family and many started to leave the district. I remember my uncle's house burning and I lost my family for short time, but eventually we were reunited.

All those days are passed, but the effects still remain. That is why people are still in a bad situation. The government can't do anything about this. Nato and Isaf are just symbolic here.

Kids have to work. Young kids under 10 carry water by donkeys no matter how cold it is and it has been freezing. Children have to find a way to make money, their parents force them.

The picture above is of a boy who broke these eggs around him hoping people will feel sorry and give him money.

Nato should pay the money they spend each day to the Afghan forces. Then there may be peace and stability.

EDUCATION

Aziz Roeesh is the principal of Marefat High School in Kabul.

Marefat High School in Kabul
Marefat High School in Kabul provides accelerated courses for girls

Life has improved after the fall of the Taleban. This is the first time that the people are engaged and participating in political affairs and there are lots of changes.

We can see these changes in education, we can see it in the daily life of the people and even the trust of people in the government.

In our school we have an accelerated learning programme which is especially useful for girls. We have great community support for that scheme and people send their daughters to us even at the ages of 18 and 20 to start from class one and learn their ABC.

We can also upgrade some of these students and some of the girls passed from class one to grade 12 in five years. Others have already graduated from school and are attending university.

Last year 62% of our students were girls. They went to university. They were able to gain entrance.

That is a great change.

LIFE IN THE NORTH

Tahir Qadiry is a student and journalist. He talks about life and security in Mazar-e-sharif.

Tahir Qadiry
Tahir lives in the relatively peaceful city of Mazar-e-Sharif

Mazar is a relatively peaceful city in Afghanistan. But the nature of this country is such that we can expect terrorist activities at any minute.

People seem quite happy with the security situation. On the other hand we have other problems such as the recent snow, inflation and other social problems.

I would also say that the culture of the Taleban still has a presence in the area. Certain security commanders say the Taleban are regrouping in parts of the north and there is infiltration here.

We have heard of the Taleban giving bribes to people and urging people to join them. One of the problems is unemployment and when people are jobless they join the Taleban. So international forces are not doing enough to stop all this but they are making some good steps.

I don't think Nato should expand their forces but they should vary their activities beyond reconstruction.

Life for me personally has been better in the last year but there have been some threats and I'm afraid that one day I might be a target for insurgency groups when they know I work in a foreign office.

That is the nature of security in this country.



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