US legacy in Afghanistan: What 11 years of war has accomplished
The lives of four Afghans provide a lens on how America's longest conflict has changed a nation – and the divisions and dangers that persist.
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"Since the Americans have come, we have gotten more literacy for women. We have gotten political rights, but we are still considered second-class citizens. Actually it is the same old slavery system – we are possessions," says Dr. Jalal. "Now the Americans are leaving. We are not objecting to that. But we didn't expect that our friends in the West would empower our enemies, the extremists" by encouraging them to rejoin the political process.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, the signs of progress are palpable. Since 2001, nearly $1.9 billion has been spent rebuilding thousands of Afghan public schools, and in every major city and town, girls in uniforms trek to classrooms. Samih remembers her first day in a real school, back in 2003.
"It was really exciting: I saw the schoolteacher; I saw the school uniform, with the white scarf, the white pants, and the black top; and I loved it when my mother bought them for me," she says. "I knew – these are mine."
Now in college, she shares a room with three other girls from different ethnic groups and provinces. None of them play on ethnic stereotypes; all are fierce defenders of a single Afghan nationhood. "We are all so optimistic," she says. "We want to do something for Afghanistan."
Zahra Khawari, a senior in English literature at Kabul University and simultaneously a freshman in business at the American University of Afghanistan, is an Afghan national who grew up as a refugee in Iran and didn't arrive here until 2005. But she's seen dramatic changes in the educational opportunities for women.
Like many Afghans, she worries the Taliban will return and reverse all of the gains Afghan women have made. But she thinks Afghans are more educated now and less tolerant of a backward and ill-educated government.
"All the people worry, but I won't leave," she says. "I want to do what I came here to do, and that is to serve my people. The Taliban won't be so successful with the new generation. [It is] very tired of war."
IN PICTURES – Inside Afghanistan: Remnants of America's longest war
CORROSION OF CORRUPTION
When the Taliban were in power, Abdul Bashir was a university student with few job prospects. The Kabul he lived in at that time was mainly an empty city of bullet-pocked homes, shabby mosques, and dusty unpaved streets. White sport utility vehicles dominated the roads, driven by foreign aid workers, although Taliban pickup trucks also spirited through town full of bearded soldiers heading off to war in the north.
Today, Mr. Bashir's Kabul is a city of newly built concrete mansions, even though the streets remain largely unpaved and muddy. There are new schools and medical clinics, and Western aid flows readily into Afghan government coffers. Yet sewage still flows freely in open ditches along roadways, serving as the city's ad hoc waste system. Kabul remains the largest capital city in the world (pop. 3 million) that doesn't have a modern sewage system.
These two sides of Kabul show how much progress has been made and how the city still has one sandal in a millenniums-old way of life. Bashir, a quietly intense senior civil servant in the Afghan Ministry of Health, notes that the lack of a sewer system alone creates many of the problems his department struggles with.
"In the hospitals, it is the same as it was during the Taliban times," says Bashir, whose name has been changed because he is concerned his comments could cost him his job. "They only changed the furniture and painted the walls and started to wear good neckties."