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Frontline Diary

30 May 2004: Afghanistan after the war

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2004
Edward Carwardine with children of Mazar, Afghanistan.
Edward Carwardine is UNICEF’s Communication Officer in Afghanistan. Here's his diary entry giving his personal view on what is happening there.

KABUL, 30 May 2004—There was a noticeable ‘driving’ motif to reconstruction here in Kabul in the last few weeks. Two weeks ago, the first traffic lights came back into working order at the main intersections. Last week, another form of driving hit the headlines when Kabul’s former golf club reopened its doors for those willing to take on the nine-hole, dust and cinder course. At $10 a round, the clubhouse may not be packed for a while, but it was certainly an interesting development.

These may seem like slightly banal examples, but one should also look at the results of a new, albeit small, opinion poll released by the Asia Foundation last Thursday. The poll sampled 800 Afghans, in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan, both man and woman. This found that the majority of respondents—64 per cent —believed that Afghanistan was moving in the right direction. Interestingly, security—long a worry for the humanitarian and military communities here—was less of a concern, with most people showing more nervousness about the economy and jobs. It was heartening to see that amongst those polled, the UN was held in the highest regard among the main actors in the reconstruction process.

I have been in Afghanistan for about two and a half years. Like many involved in the humanitarian sector, I have shared the frustrations and setbacks that so many post-conflict countries encounter in the first years of rebuilding. It is heartening, then, to know that perhaps our worries are not shared—at least not as acutely—by the people themselves. To be fair, much has changed for the better since the fall of the Taliban, especially in relation to the situation of women and children. 

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2004/Carwardine
The first traffic lights came back into working order at the main intersections of Kabul.
Four million students are back in school—more than ever before in the country’s history. Incidences of polio and measles have dramatically fallen as a result of massive immunization campaigns. Every province in the country will soon have a basic facility to provide professional medical care to expectant mothers. Some 2,000 former child soldiers have been demobilized so far this year.

Millions of people have benefited from hygiene promotion campaigns in their homes, communities and schools. Most importantly, while the new traffic lights and golf courses are found in the capital, the health, immunization and protection programmes—all supported by UNICEF—have reached out to every province in Afghanistan, even those where security is still volatile. This has important implications for nation-building.

Everywhere in Afghanistan there are still visible scars of nearly three decades of war: Bombed-out offices, houses pock-marked by bullet holes, skeletons of tanks, little red stones that warn of uncleared minefields. And yet even on the former front line in the northern province of Takhar, amidst rusting shells of armoured personnel carriers, I sat last autumn with a group of village leaders as they discussed improving educational opportunities for their young people. Reconstruction is as much about shaping attitudes as it is building roads or drilling wells.

This is a country that defies stereotypes. The mullah who promotes a woman’s right to health. The military commander who wants to see his soldiers take up training in carpentry so they can move into civilian life. The council of elders that encourages the women of the village to register to vote in September’s planned elections. Just as the vines in the fields around Kabul are now sprouting vivid green leaves, so are the new shoots of progress emerging all over Afghanistan.

But of course, the road is long, and the journey has only just begun. Crises elsewhere have drawn attention, inevitably, away from Afghanistan. But if the country is really to continue moving in the right direction, then support from the international community will be required for some time to come. Long-term investment in development projects is a necessity. The commitment to expanding peace-keeping forces throughout the country must be met. For UNICEF, developing the sustainability and quality of our successful programmes must lie at the heart of our planning, if we can muster the continued support of our donors.

Back in Kabul, while the traffic lights are up and running, there is still a policeman at each junction, continuing to guide traffic and ensure that drivers understand the new automated system that is in place. All of us who believe in the re-emergence of Afghanistan as a player on the global stage will have to keep our guiding hand in place as well, as the country slowly takes more and more control of its own destiny.



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