Image: U.S. Marines conducting house-to-house searches
David Furst  /  AFP - Getty Images file
A U.S. Marine kicks down a door as his platoon searches houses during Operation Germinate in the restive Bhuji Bhast Pass in Farah Province in October, 2009.
msnbc.com
updated 5/12/2010 11:46:14 AM ET 2010-05-12T15:46:14

More than eight years into the war in Afghanistan, msnbc.com is launching "Voices from Afghanistan" to highlight the often overlooked thoughts of people who live in that country. This occasional series will try to provide an insight into the thinking of Afghans.

The following pieces stem from conversations on Facebook. While the views expressed by these four young Afghans are not those of msnbc.com, they do reflect the feelings of many members of the country’s tiny educated elite.

The views expressed in this story are not necessarily those of msnbc.com.

Afghanistan today is certainly different from the day nine years ago when a virtually unknown tribal leader named Hamid Karzai landed in Uruzgan accompanied by heavily armed Americans, when he narrowly escaped capture by the Taliban by being air-lifted at the last minute.

This difference means a lot for Karzai, who was taken from rugged mountains to the presidential palace in Kabul. But it means nothing for ordinary Afghans, who look at their future with as much uncertainty as they did on the eve of Oct. 7, 2001, when the first air strikes hit Kabul, sending smoke and firelight into the capital’s skies.

For now, my countrymen are cruelly bombed, their homes are irresponsibly checked, their nearest and dearest taken to jail. Many feel they have no freedom of expression, no access to justice, no real ability to study religion because those who study at seminary are often blacklisted as terrorist or al-Qaida supporters.

So, the lives of ordinary Afghans have gotten worse under the U.S.-backed government, and many of us felt safer under the Taliban.

While many people were unemployed, no one had seen suicide attacks, bombardments of civilians and skyrocketing food prices, rents and other basics.

We could easily travel from one province to another, even in at midnight. Now, no-one can leave Kabul after 6 or 7 in the evening.

When the U.S. invasion toppled the Taliban, Afghans expected big changes – everyone would get a job, roads would be built, electricity extended to every province. In short, we thought the country would develop day-by-day.

These expectations have washed away.

Security
During the Taliban my family had an orchard with 1,000 grapevines. We made a reasonable living trading fruit with Pakistanis, who bought our grapes at good prices. But now, no traders can be found in the area because of bad security. My family can’t travel from Ghazni to Khost at night because bandits and highway police rob passers-by. We also worry about NATO airstrikes.

During the Taliban there were no such threats.

And often we are punished for protesting against ill treatment.

Chapter two, article 36 of the constitution says, “the citizens of Afghanistan have the right to unarmed demonstrations, for legitimate peaceful purposes.” This right is violated every time an ordinary person is sandwiched between his rights, and police and U.S. soldiers who don’t care about the constitution they established. I have seen students imprisoned just for arranging protests against the killing of civilians.

Although our government has not stopped begging since it was established and has already received a huge amount of international aid, this help has yielded no real improvements on the ground.

Prices of basic items are soaring, the unemployment rate is going higher and higher, and real incomes going down. For example, during the Taliban era, one loaf of bread cost 3 Afghanis – now its price is 10. One liter of gasoline was 11 Afghanis, now it is over 40.

Thieves and dog-washers
Describing the government and its bureaucrats as corrupt is no longer an allegation as Karzai himself frequently laments the widespread corruption.

Those who have strong private militias behind them occupy top positions in the regime, with the Western-minded technocrats coming next in the line of power.

The first group spares no effort in stealing the nation’s wealth through any means, from the opium business and corruption to the monopolized trade on alcohol.

Slideshow: Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads The second group, known among ordinary Afghans as dog-washers – so named because many think that anyone who goes West is not educated enough to do anything other than wash dogs — tries to import every peculiarity of Western culture into Afghanistan.

The Americans and other foreigners and NGOs bring even more corruption to Afghanistan. A UN or NGO worker may make $15,000 a month, which could support 50 ordinary Afghan families (average pay for an Afghan laborer is around $376 a year). All the foreign loans must be paid by the government, but no one asks NGO workers and UN employees where their billions of dollars have gone.

The Westerners have invaded our country, but many wonder if they have come to help. Many Afghans believe Westerners are fighting for their colonial agendas not to help ordinary people – in my opinion, recent bombings of civilians have proved this 110 percent.

In sum, I not only want our government to talk to the Taliban, I urge the foreigners to let the Afghans decide their own future. While we want a good relationship with Americans as financial supporters we don’t want them as invaders. And if they come as invaders, then this proverb will become reality: “If you throw a pebble, you would receive in return a brick.”

As told to F. Brinley Bruton

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