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Five Years of a Post-Taliban Afghanistan

Aired November 16, 2006 - 14:00:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An overlooked anniversary. It's been five years since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Western- backed government is still struggling against them and the slow pace of change.
Hello and welcome.

This week, Afghans looking closely at the calendar might have noticed something. It's been five years since the Taliban were routed and a Western-backed democracy was put into place. The calendar would have been the best indicator, because in Afghanistan itself, there was very little celebration. Afghans have other things on their minds. Their country is more dangerous than it has been since the Taliban were still in power. There are more than 600 attacks a month and about 3,700 deaths so far this year.

Still, there is a measure of real progress. On our program today, Afghanistan, five years, slowly forward.

Alex Thompson of ITN begins the coverage.


ALEX THOMPSON, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kabul by night, or at least one district. The massive new wedding hotels, Afghanistan's answer to Las Vegas. By day, well, same old same old, the professional beggars catching lunch from city center restaurant leftovers. Scribes outside the prison catering to the legions unable to read and write here. See those thumbprints?

So Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, House of Commons, not yet one year old, must somehow cater for all these divergent interests. Check out the faces. Central Asian ethnic group Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks, mingling with the Pokar (ph) hats of northern Afghanistan, lavish turbans of the Pashtun south and east, and all of them mingling, really mingling, with women, of all things.

Like Norzia Atma (ph) representing Jalalabad, a noted parliamentarian who already speaks in almost every debate; Shukuria Barakzai, a journalist, an editor, in fact, until she was elected, and a campaigner for women's rights. I caught up with her in the parliamentary lobby.

SHUKURIA BARAKZAI, AFGHAN PARLIAMENTARIAN: People (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 25 years against each other. Today they are working as good colleagues by the name of MP together. I think that's a big achievement. Those people, which is there against law by their own nature, today they are lawmakers.

THOMPSON: And almost 1/3 of MPs are women, far more than in any other Muslim parliament on the planet. And alongside them, plenty of, how can I put it, colorful characters. Bacha Zadran (ph), honorable member for Paktia. Until last year he was fighting the government and the Americans. Who's this with the Communist-era trademark tache? None other than Sayid Gulab Zoy (ph) interior minister back when Moscow ran things. And here's Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi, who fired so many rocket-propelled grenades at the Red Army, he's half deaf and named after them. More recently, he helped run Jalalabad for the Taliban, but that was then and this is now.

So why, I asked, are the Taliban getting stronger?

MULLAH ROCKETI, AFGHAN PARLIAMENTARIAN (through translator): Well, naturally, if the government is weak you cannot reach the people, especially in places where people need them. Then clearly the enemies of the government will get stronger and stronger.

THOMPSON: When voting in the chamber, it's a green card for the ayes, a red card for the nos. This debate was to end in a recount, it was so close, causing that great democratic tradition, a rumpus in the chamber.

One MP has decided to take democracy nearer to the people. Ramazan Bashardost, MP, holds his surgeries in a tent in a city center park.


THOMPSON (on camera): You don't find many MPs in Hyde Park in London.

BASHARDOST: It is freedom place.

THOMPSON (voice-over): And from his freedom place, he rails against government corruption and tries to help anybody who comes through the tent flap.

Afghanistan has seen no truth in reconciliation process after the years of wars. Bygones are simply bygones, and that's it. But not all MPs at the parliament like it that way.

Indeed, about 1/3 of MPs elected to represent the Afghan people are reckoned to be serious warlords, mass murderers or drug barons, and Sabrina Saqib, for one, says allowing them into this place is a big mistake.

SABRINA SAQIB, AFGHAN PARLIAMENTARIAN: By the policy of the government, which they are asking the parliament to come and join here, I think the new Taliban will be here in Afghanistan soon. Maybe by different faces, by different clothes, like that, but really I am so worried for the future of Afghanistan. I am not so hopeful right now.

THOMPSON: Such fears all the more powerful because parliament here enjoys credibility, as shown by people turning up here to protest.


MANN: Alex Thompson.

We take a break. When we come back, a woman's view of Afghanistan's progress.

Stay with us for that.


MANN: In one wonderful way, the sky is the limit. Kite flying, a national pastime, has returned to Afghanistan. The Taliban banned kites as un-Islamic, a distraction from more serious duties. But no longer.

"It's changed a lot compared to how it was in the Taliban time," kite maker Noor Aga (ph) says. "During their regime, if a child was even caught flying a cheap, plastic kite, his father would be thrown in jail. But fortunately, now we live like kings."

Welcome back.

Freedoms big and small have been returned to the people of Afghanistan, but freedom in a traditional society is limited by its traditions.

Kylie Morris reports now on women who are literally prisons of traditions they are powerless to change.


KYLIE MORRIS, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you believe the hype, these were the people the West was fighting for when we went to war in Afghanistan. Our intervention was at least in part about restoring the rights girls and women had lost under the Taliban.

But today has anything really improved? We wanted to ask the women held inside Kabul Central Jail. Most are there because they've run away from home or brought shame upon their families. If they were in the West, it is unlikely that they would be in prison at all.

For two days, the authorities blocked our efforts. Why, they asked, did we want to speak to women like these. But, finally, a camerawoman and I were given a few moments to film. The commander insisted we not show the faces of the women, but we could record their stories.

Fatima has been here a month. She says she was raped when she went to find a new house for her family.

FATIMA, AFGHAN PRISONER (through translator): When I told the agent we weren't interested, he locked the door and said to me, "I was looking for you in the heavens and God has given you to me on earth."

MORRIS: She wipes away tears as she recalls her abuse.

FATIMA (through translator): When I started to scream, he began to beat me. He locked the door and hit me. He pulled off my scarf. He violated me.

MORRIS: Her sons sleeps in the next room as Fatima confirms the extraordinary truth that she, the apparent victim, is now charged with adultery. If found guilty, she'll lose her son and spend years in prison. She'll only be released if the man who raped her confesses.

FATIMA (through translator): What should I do? I have nothing left.

MORRIS (on camera): In the West, many people think that after the Taliban left power, that there were better chances for women in Afghanistan. Do you think that that is true for you?

FATIMA (through translator): No, none of this is true. It's just talk. A woman has no rights. It's just rhetoric. In Afghanistan, the men have all the power.

MORRIS: We can't show you these women's faces, but we can show you how they live. There are just a few small bedrooms, as you can see. The furnishings are very sparse. The bathrooms are in fairly ghastly condition. There are lots of mice. It's an incredibly difficult circumstance, and most of these women don't know how long they'll be in here for, or even what they've been charged with.

(voice-over): The great leap forward promised to the women of Afghanistan hasn't happened. Despite a new constitution and legal reform, few find justice.

As for the international aid extravaganza, well, consider this. While we're at the prison a television set arrives. Norwegian Police Officer Tam Mitzen (ph), who is officially in Kabul working on police reform, has overseen some changes here.

New paint, new carpet, a children's playground, and a TV. And who has paid for it all?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So far, I have funded it, but perhaps someone is going to pay me back.

MORRIS: Even as the international community struggles to make good on its promises to women, the time for reform is already running out. It's nowhere more obvious than in the company of Afghan women who, after the Taliban, took the high risk choice to lead modern lives.

The popular TV host Fazana possibly has the highest profile. She's definitely the most glamorous. Every day, she read out letters from women on the Western-style television network Tolo TV. Many are cries for help from women facing forced marriage or domestic abuse.

FAZANA SAMIME, TELEVISION PRESENTER (through translator): As far as I'm concerned, it's a big help for them. Even if we can't solve their problems, they can raise their voices via e-mail, letters and phone calls. So it's a great help for them. Even to discuss the problem is a major step.

MORRIS: It's a major step for Fazana as well. By appearing for an advocate for women's rights on television, she risks the ire of conservative forces. Women in other parts of the country have been killed for less.

FAZANA (through translator): The security situation is really not very good these days. There are a lot of suicide attacks. And for those of us working outside the house and on the TV, well, you hear things, rumors. That's why it's dangerous for any high profile women. It's particularly dangerous, and it worries me.

MORRIS: For now, Fazana is safe. The younger women who work with her are inspired by their post-Taliban possibilities inside the bubble at Tolo TV. Young makeup artist Fawzia Sultani loves her job. She tells me makeup helps women to feel fresh and confident.

Most women in Afghanistan are barred from working by their male relatives. But 19-year-old Fawzia tells me she hopes to find a husband who will allow her to keep working.

FAWZIA SULTANI, MAKEUP ARTIST (through translator): It's just propaganda to say it's not safe for women to work. We are working without any problem.

MORRIS: Few women, though, find such freedom in their marriages, and if things go wrong, they won't find protection under the law. There is no easy escape for women here from violence and abuse by their husbands and families. If they are lucky, they and their children might find safety within one of the country's two shelters for women. Their locations are kept secret. Most women inside live under the threat of death.

"My family has sent word that if I go home, my brother-in-law will kill me, and if that happens, my three children will grow up without a mother."

Bilili's (ph) in-laws want revenge for the murder of her husband, although it was Bilili's (ph) brother who killed him after he slept with their 14-year-old sister.

The West promised Afghan girls and women their freedom, rights and protection. Five years after the Taliban government, that feels a fairy tale.

Kylie Morris, Channel 4 News, Kabul.


MANN: We take another break now. When we come back, the Afghan bloom boom. Why poppies are still a problem.

Stay with us.


MANN: Drugs bring life and death to the people of Afghanistan. The poppy crop, which is processed into heroin, has grown by more than 50 percent this year. More money for farmers in what is a very poor country and for insurgents in what is also a country at war.

Welcome back.

Call it interlocking imperatives. The government is Kabul has to defeat both the drug lords and the Taliban at the same time. Part of the effort is being done in the field.

Here's Kylie Morris once again from the southern province of Helmand.


MORRIS (voice-over): Even a day trip to see Britain's counter- narcotics projects is a high security outing. We can't stay on the ground too long. There's a constant threat of suicide attacks. But the foreign office says despite the circumstances, it's rolling out quick impact projects aimed at weaning Helmand off its poppy-growing habits.

I'm introduced to provincial officials who are anti-poppy allies. They tell me they've fixed up 30 tractors with Britain's backing. They'll be given to any families who answer the offer broadcast on the radio the night before: Don't plant poppy, and we'll give you a tractor and some fuel to plant something else instead.

GHALUM NABI, HELMAND AGRICULTURAL OFFICE (through translator): This is just a start. We know farmers need more help, but the government has promised more assistant through seeds and other supplies, even livestock. In the future, they'll have everything they need.

MORRIS: They'll need a lot more than some freshly overhauled tractors. Helmand produces a whopping 20 percent of the world's opium. Farmers make 10 times as much by growing poppies as they do another crop like wheat.

(on camera): Britain is waging a war of persuasion. It needs local support for eradication, despite the overwhelming financial benefits of the crop. So it's reminding Afghans of the downside of opium by funding this place, a rehabilitation center for addicts.

(voice-over): The day we visit, the 20 beds are full. Men are treated here, women at home.

There's a waiting list of 500 for the medical and social care this place offers. This young man tells us that without treatment, he has no future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There is so much poppy in Helmand. That's why I started. It was available, it was cheap as well.

MORRIS: Being an addict in Lashkagar can cost you as little as 5 pounds a week. In Helmand the drug is smoked and chewed.

This is our last stop. There are no eradication-set pieces on our driving tour, although local officials admit quietly this year's poppy planting season is well underway.

WAZIR GUL RASULI, AGRICULTURAL SCIENTIST: Yes, it might be in part of an area which is not under control of the government in some area they are far from Lashkagar cities, maybe they plant it. Maybe. But they need support.

MORRIS: There's no magical cure that will break Helmand's opium industry. It's a long-term problem. Britain will need patience, commitment and plenty of cash to have any impact.

Kylie Morris, Channel 4 News, Lashkagar.


MANN: Joining us now to talk about where Afghanistan stands today is Seth Jones, an analyst from the Rand Corporation who has just returned from his most recent visit there.

Let me ask you your impressions. Should Afghans, should the nations that fought in Afghanistan, be satisfied with the progress now five years on?

SETH G. JONES, RAND CORP.: Well, I think probably the best answer to that question just came out in an Asia Foundation poll which suggested that most Afghans still believe the country is moving in the right direction. But part of that indicated issues of security and the economy are critical concerns. So some good indications, but also some serious drawbacks.

MANN: Security really is getting worse. The economy is getting better in some places, in the north and the east, but Kabul is still terribly poor to the people who visit it.

I heard one very telling comment, that the West wanted a cheap war and a cheap peace and it got the benefits of both.

JONES: I think the data actually strongly supports that. Work that we've done at the Rand Corporation suggests that on a per capita level, international assistance to Afghanistan was one of the lowest of any nation-building operation since World War II, and actually the number of troops were some of the lowest of any nation-building operation since World War II as well. So it's been reconstruction on the cheap.

MANN: Does that mean it has been terribly efficient and successful or it's been insufficient and it's not working?

JONES: I think it's been successful in some area, education, for example, the number of women that now go to school and girls that go to school has increased.

But really, in areas of security and the increasing power and the violence of the Taliban insurgency is one area where this clearly has gotten worse.

MANN: Let me ask you about that. Afghans clearly cannot handle it on their own. They've depended on NATO nations. NATO isn't proving that successful with the number of troops it has in place now, and not all that eager, I guess is the fairest way to say it, not all that eager to send in more.

JONES: Right. When we talk about NATO, there are clear divisions. The British, for example, the Canadians and the Dutch, are in provinces like Helmand and Kandahar, the Americans are fighting are fighting north of that in Paktia and Paktika. But there are other countries, like the Germans and the Norwegians, that have been unwilling to send their troops to conduct combat operations. So huge variation across NATO.

MANN: What does that mean? Does the government in Kabul actually govern Afghanistan? Or does it depend on outside troops to keep it in some nominal control of areas that it really doesn't have much to do with?

JONES: I think there is still some truth to the saying that we hear around Kabul that President Karzai is still the mayor of Kabul, and that when you move outside of Kabul, that you need some combination of assistance from governors, local militias and, of course, United States and other NATO forces on the ground. So some combination of all of the above.

MANN: Is NATO going to stay? Can Afghan people depend on the status quo? And to put the question differently, do they need something more than the status quo? Does NATO have to get much more involved to save that government?

JONES: I think it would be extraordinarily helpful for NATO, including the United States, to show a long-term commitment by increasing numbers of forces, and also, in particular, on the diplomatic front, to work with Pakistan to undermine the sanctuary that exists across the border.

MANN: I just want to go back to something that you passed quickly over and our correspondent, or I should say ITN's correspondent, spent some time on, which is the status of women. It's still not an easy country or a fair country for women, is it?

JONES: No. You see when you walk around, and I've been in Kabul multiple times over the last few years, you see in cities like Kabul increasing percentages of women who do not wear the burka. But when you go down south, for example, in Kandahar, still the majority of women wear the burka and there are clear violations against human rights directed against women. So probably some mild improvements, but I think the country has a long way to go on women's rights.

MANN: We have just one moment left, so let me ask you to put this in context. Afghanistan was never going to become Switzerland overnight. Are we looking at a place that is being turned with much effort into a fairly normal, dysfunctional, developing country? And is that a kind of progress nonetheless?

JONES: Yes, I think that's a safe way of putting it. There is sort of a dysfunctional kind of progress, but still that could slip into sort of greater dysfunction and greater violence.

MANN: After five years.

Seth Jones, of the Rand Corporation, thanks so much for talking with us.

JONES: Thank you.

MANN: And that is INSIGHT for today. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.



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