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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Scandals, such as the near-collapse of Kabul Bank, perhaps symbolize how deep the corruption runs. Founded by major Afghan political players, such as Karzai's brother Mahmoud, Kabul Bank operated a virtual Ponzi scheme, Western diplomats say, with loans of hundreds of millions of dollars given out to friends with no paperwork and no accountability. The Afghan government finally moved in to guarantee investors' money and now says the institution's losses may total $900 million or more.Skip to next paragraph
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At the Ministry of Health, Bashir sees the effects of corruption everyday, and it costs lives. He points to a CT scanner bought for $200,000 that has rarely been used, and now sits broken. The funds for its repair have been requested and promised, but never delivered.
Bashir's brother, who lives in the US, has tried to persuade him to leave Afghanistan, but Bashir says he will stay and serve his people. "I was thinking about it," he admits. "But the next day I was driving, and I saw children playing in the road. They were poor; but they were happy, playing there in the road. And I started thinking what would happen if these children got hurt, and there were no educated people, no doctors there to care for them." He pauses.
"These people need me. I must be here."
IN PICTURES – Inside Afghanistan: Remnants of America's longest war
When you shake the hand of Sultan Mahmud, a middle-aged man with a graying beard, you can feel the calluses of someone who has worked with his hands his entire life. Sometimes that work has been as a shopkeeper, sometimes as a farmer; and during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1991, Mr. Mahmud was a fighter with one of the most radical of Islamist mujahideen parties, the Hizb-e-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Mahmud – not his real name – says he stopped fighting when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996, and he didn't rejoin the war as many of his younger neighbors did when the Americans helped to push the Taliban out in January 2002.
But as a resident of Konar Province in the northeastern part of the country along the Pakistani border – a virtual no-go zone for most foreign aid groups, and site of some of the fiercest fights for American forces over the past decade – Mahmud is decidedly on the side of the insurgents. As a former warrior himself, he now sees a younger generation of Hizb-e-Islami fighters launching regular attacks against a nearby US military base. It's a fight he sees daily, because his farm is within sight of the military outpost.
"I see war from morning to night," he says, smiling grimly.
The people of Konar are now fed up, Mahmud says, both with their own government, which is unresponsive and corrupt, and with the continued presence of foreign troops, which many people see as an occupation force unfriendly to Islam and to Afghan tradition. The foreign troops haven't even bothered to create projects, such as a hydropower dam along the Konar River, that could have made a difference in people's lives, he adds.