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Afghans determined to get on with life

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The Shahr-e Naw attack left 17 people dead and damaged many buildings

By Chris Morris
BBC News, Kabul

On a sunny spring day in Kabul's Shahr-e Naw park, people come out early, sitting and drinking tea, playing football or just chatting.

But one corner of the park is still recovering from the events of 10 days ago, when Afghanistan's war arrived without warning in this neighbourhood.

It's good to talk to moderate Taliban, but not to the extremists
Ghulam Ali

An early morning car bomb was followed by Taliban suicide attacks and exchanges of gunfire which lasted for several hours.

Seventeen people were killed, one guesthouse was completely destroyed and many buildings and businesses were badly damaged. It was the worst attack in the capital for months.

'Just talk'

A bricklayer is now at work just across the street from the crater left by the car bomb, rebuilding a broken wall. Slowly but surely they are putting things back together again.

Farmanullah Shinwari
Mr Shinwari says fighting kills ordinary people and destroys the country

A hundred metres down the road, the local kebab shop is getting ready for another busy day. Smoke from the barbecue is drifting through the air.

They cook chickens and 20 to 30 sheep a day here. The money the staff earn gets sent back to families around the country.

And understandably, bombs are bad for business.

"No-one gains from fighting," says the shop's owner, Farmanullah Shinwari, as he watches skewers of lamb sizzle on the fire.

"We should stop it, and just talk."

"The government should share things out more and create jobs so we can carry on our business," he adds.

"Fighting just kills ordinary people and destroys the country."

Extremists

Around the corner next to the shattered front of the Safi Landmark Hotel, Ghulam Ali is gradually cleaning up his bakery. He has still got no mains electricity or water.

In a backroom they are cutting new plates of glass on one table, and icing cakes on the next.

Ghulam Ali says foreign military forces should stay in Afghanistan for now, but he wants them to take much more care not to kill civilians.

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He is waiting for peace - but not at any price.

"We can't reconcile with the hard line Taliban because their condition is that foreign forces should leave the country. Right now, that's not possible," he argues.

"We can't trust them because we remember what they did last time they were in power. It's good to talk to moderate Taliban, but not to the extremists."

Even here in Shahr-e Naw, there is a strong military presence. A convoy of Humvee military vehicles rumbles past as we walk back into the park.

But normal life goes on.

War weariness

Big military operations in Helmand, like Operation Moshtarak, may create headlines in the UK and the US, but in the rest of Afghanistan they make little news and have almost no impact.

I want a secure and relaxing place to play football
Abdullah Wahidi

After 30 years of surviving one conflict after another, it is hardly surprising that most Afghans wonder what the point of it all is.

On a bumpy concrete pitch still wet from overnight rain, a pick-up game of football is under way. There are players in Real Madrid and Barcelona shirts. Earlier we saw a Manchester United jacket.

But while foreign football is more popular in the park than foreign military force, some of these players do understand why British and American troops are fighting in Helmand.

RECENT KABUL ATTACKS
18 Jan 2010: Taliban attack government targets and shopping malls, killing 12
15 Dec 09: Six killed in suicide attack near hotel in Wazir Akbar Khan district
24 Oct 09: Six UN staff and three Afghans killed in attack on UN guesthouse
8 Oct 09: Suicide bomber attacks Indian embassy, killing at least 17
17 Sept 09: Six Italian soldiers and 10 Afghans die in military convoy blast
18 Aug 09: Suicide blast kills 10 in attack on Western troop convoy

"It's a good operation because some people like the Taliban and other factions are against our government," says Abdullah Wahidi, an engineer decked out in an Argentina shirt with "Messi 10" on the back.

"If we want peace then this operation was needed."

There is plenty of war weariness here, and no-one wants foreign forces to stay longer than strictly necessary.

But there is also a determination to get on with life.

If international policy now is based on handing power back to Afghans - "Afghanisation" - then in Shahr-e Naw it cannot happen soon enough.

"I want a secure and relaxing place to play football," Mr Wahidi says as he prepares to return to the game.

And his biggest hope of all?

"I want a better pitch."



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