Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Five years on - Afghanistan after the Taliban

What has been achieved in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted from Kabul?

PESSIMISM is something of an Afghan tradition. Yet the gloom that blankets Kabul ahead of the first snows of winter is as acute as it has been since the Taliban were ejected from the city on November 12th 2001. “Already the Americans are removing their troops. We fear that all the hopes and opportunities given to the Afghan people...will be taken away again,” says Jabar Haliq, a civil servant who lives with his family on a mountain beside the city.

There are in fact 40,000 NATO troops in the country, the highest number since 2001, and plans to reduce American forces have been postponed. Yet, like many of Kabul's generally moderate residents, Mr Haliq fears a resurgent Taliban are gaining the upper hand over foreign peacekeepers who seem to lack enthusiasm for their mission. American spending in the country has dropped this year, and few European NATO countries are eager to fight in the dangerous south of the country. Many Afghans also believe that Pakistan next door still supports the Taliban and wants, for strategic reasons, to see Afghanistan enfeebled. So far this year some 3,700 people have been killed, and the rate of insurgent attacks has sharply increased.

The high expectations some had in 2001 have not been realised. The government is, at best, a decade from being able to stand on its own feet. But efforts to stimulate the private sector and to levy taxes where none had been seen before are gradually showing results. Last year the government gathered revenues of roughly $350m, some 63% of its recurring costs—if you don’t count the billions that America and others have spent on security. Violence, a drought and chronic electricity shortages have all helped to slow the economy, which nonetheless ticks over at 8% a year. But sharp rises in the cost of living have left many lowly-paid civil servants reliant on graft to get by. Petty corruption is worsening too: it is increasingly common to be stopped by officials who ask for money in the streets of Kabul.

Read the whole story on the Economist.com

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