Page last updated at 17:52 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Change slow for isolated Afghans

Darbaw village
The village of Darbaw has seen few of the promised changes

By Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Takhar province, Afghanistan

A dirt road lined with crumbling stonewalls weaves its way through Afghanistan's snowy Hindu Kush peaks.

On one side of the rutted track runs a shallow river, on the other a natural pistachio forest is sprinkled across the craggy, rising slopes.

But at the end of the road there is a harsh counterpoint to the natural beauty of the Farkhar valley - a decaying, isolated Afghan village.

With little of the infrastructure long promised by the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, this village, like many others throughout Afghanistan, is on the verge of collapse.

Unseen by aid-workers, the village of Darbaw has been largely left to fend for itself in one of the world's most unforgiving landscapes.

Seven years after the fall of Taleban, this mountainous valley of 300 families still does not have access to clean drinking water and lacks even the crudest of medical clinics.

Villagers in Darbaw complain they hardly see any of the substantial profits made from the pistachio forest, let alone Takhar province's relatively lucrative salt and coal mine.

Chronic battle

In recent years, government aid work has introduced a small electrical power plant in Darbaw, allowing villagers to make the switch from kerosene lamps to electrical light bulbs.

Afghans in the Farkhar valley describe their plight

But while the introduction of the light-bulb has certainly made a difference to the lives of the villagers, Darbaw's power supplies remain minimal at best, unable to provide enough electricity to sustain even one fridge.

There is here an unyielding determination to survive but there is a chronic battle with disease and hunger.

Darbaw is one of thousands of villages still waiting for the government and the international community to deliver on its promises of a better life.

The Afghan government points to its achievements - the northern highways have been asphalted, newly built bridges connect villages across valleys and hospitals and schools have been constructed.

"When the Taleban were removed, everything was destroyed. Today we have thousands of kilometres of asphalted road," says one senior Afghan official in Kabul.

"The Afghan police and army replaced the Taleban and warlords. Did Afghanistan get enough troops and money from America and the West?

 Sayed Abdul Rahman
Karzai made a lot of promises to us. We trusted him and his foreign friends about reconstruction and peace. Look what has happened since then
Sayed Abdul Rahman

"No, we didn't and now everyone blames it on the Afghan government."

For the most part, people's lives have not changed in post-Taleban Afghanistan, including in the north.

"Unemployment is very high, corruption is in the government and we live in poverty. I don't like this kind of democracy," says 72-year-old village elder Sayed Abdul Rahman.

Like in other parts of Afghanistan, most northerners are living below the poverty line, despite billions of dollars of foreign aid.

In northern Afghanistan, the danger is not posed by the Taleban but by a slew of warlords who maintain illegal militias.

Residents in Takhar province have reported a number of recent skirmishes between warlords that have resulted in the killing and displacement of residents.

"These commanders are still powerful. They don't like peace and stability - they want to take this country back to the war days," says 54-year-old Mohammad Ebrahim from the remote district of Rustaq.

"Some are in parliament, others have money and guns."

Taleban demise

When questioned on the lack of progress, provincial government officials point to the fact that a court in Takhar recently convicted a number of criminals for involvement in killings, abductions and armed robberies.


One Afghan security official in the provincial capital, Taloqan, said: "These warlords are powerful in districts and villages where we are not present in greater numbers.

"But we can arrest and jail anyone in Takhar province. The Afghan government is much more powerful than we were few years ago.''

Such assertions do not mean much to the villagers of Darbaw, who still crave the basic necessities of life and more often than not appear disaffected by government inaction.

"Karzai made a lot of promises to us. We trusted him and his foreign friends about reconstruction and peace. Look what has happened since then," says Mr Rahman.

"We voted for Hamid Karzai because he promised to put an end to the suffering of our people. But where is my road, my clinic and my clean drinking water?"

A local teacher from Khawaja Bahawodeen district listed the problems of the north.

"We may not have suicide attacks, but there is corruption, little reconstruction and we still have warlords who do terrible things."

But some in Darbaw do welcome the change that has been achieved and remember fondly the demise of the Taleban.

''Men and women, young and old went to vote. After so many years of war, we finally saw a chance for peace. We didn't get everything, but look we have electricity and a road from Taloqan to our district," says Haji Abdul, 65.

Mohammad Akram, 31, adds: "When the electricity arrived at our village from the Afghan government's National Solidarity Programme (NSP), villagers in Darbaw celebrated for days.

"I couldn't believe it that our village will someday get electricity. But we were promised a lot of other things also.''

The NSP is widely considered to be the most successful government programme in recent years but Afghanistan will need many more like it to achieve peace and stability.

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