Saturday, March 01, 2008

Then again, there's always an upside, right?

So, how's that freedom and democracy and reconstruction going in Afghanistan? Uh oh ...

The ugly truth in Afghanistan

... Most aid organizations quietly withdrew their international staff from Kandahar in recent weeks, the latest sign that the situation here is getting worse. It's now almost impossible to spot a foreigner on the city streets, except for the occasional glimpse of a pale face in a troop carrier or a United Nations armoured vehicle.

At least the foreigners can escape. For many ordinary people the ramshackle city now feels like a prison, with the highways out of town regularly blocked by Taliban or bandits. Residents have even started avoiding their own city streets after dark, as formerly bustling shops switch off their colourful neon lights and pull down the shutters. There is rarely any electricity for the lights anyway, partly because the roads are too dangerous for contractors to risk bringing in a new turbine for a nearby hydroelectric generator.

Corrupt police prowl the intersections, enforcing a curfew for anybody without that night's password, or bribe money. The officers seem especially nervous these days, because the Taliban hit them almost every night with ambushes, rocket-propelled grenades or just a deceptively friendly man who walks up to a police checkpoint with an automatic rifle hidden under a shawl.

Insurgent attacks have climbed sharply in Kandahar and across the country. But some analysts believe the numbers don't capture the full horror of what's happening in Afghanistan's south and east. When a girl in a school uniform is stopped in downtown Kandahar by a man who asks frightening questions about why she's attending classes, that small act of intimidation does not appear in any statistics.

On the other hand, at least Afghans still value the sanctity of traditional marriage. And everywhere, Canada's conservatives breathe a sigh of relief.

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