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Gayle Tzemach

Gayle Tzemach

Posted: October 27, 2008 03:51 PM

On The Ground In Afghanistan: Waiting For November 4


Afghanistan's next generation is avidly watching to see what the US electorate decides come November 4. Voters 7,000 miles away are an object of keen curiosity among Kabul's young and educated.

Seven years after the US invasion, citizens speak of the international community's push to rebuild their country in tones ranging from disappointment to disdain to disgust. As they see it, Afghanistan's problems are widely reported and scarcely addressed.

Corruption infects government at all levels, leaving struggling Afghans with even fewer resources. No one knows for certain what the thousands of NGOs do here; waste and duplications hog precious resources while coordination with the Afghan government is nearly nil.

Infrastructure remains in shreds: even Kabul, the dusty and bustling capital, gets only a smattering of electricity each week. Most distressing and hardest to ignore: security is disintegrating at a fast enough pace to concern even the most stoic of Afghans. Kabul has seen three kidnappings and two morning murders of foreign workers in the last week alone.

Violence is swelling nationwide while NATO countries squabble over who will send how many troops when. Not even Kabulis hardened by three decades of war know what will come next, but signs point in the familiar directions of violence, upheaval and instability. Attracting foreign dollars to build a bright future for the country is far harder than it was three years ago; foreign investment has plunged 50 percent in 2008. Rising kidnapping threats menacing the country's business elite will sink this figure even further.

Amid this bleak and uncertain backdrop, some young Afghans look to the coming White House hand-off for a shot at change for the better. Having never known peace, they are eager for another try at a fresh start for their broken country. Heartened by the many mentions of their nation in the presidential contest between Barack Obama and John McCain, they say the candidates' discussion of more troops and better resources can only help fragile Afghanistan, which desperately needs a lifeline.

Obama is the candidate of choice, not only for the squadron of Democrat-friendly internationals calling Kabul home, but also for many young and educated Afghans who say the Illinois senator's energy and fresh approach to their country's problems is just what Afghanistan needs. His television-friendly July stop-over in Kabul clearly boosted the telegenic young politician among this crowd.

Afghans cite three primary reasons for supporting Obama: firstly, Obama highlighted Pakistan's role in supplying soldiers and support for the resurgent Taliban now laying claim to ever larger-swathes of the country - forcing aid workers back to Kabul and shuttering development projects in the provinces. Afghans have long complained of their neighbors' malicious meddling, a reality they believe the Americans have ignored for far too long.

Others applaud Obama for seconding their own view that Iraq was an ill-advised, nearly disastrous diversion from the war in Afghanistan which may yet prove their country's undoing. And while a few admit McCain's Afghanistan policy differs little from Obama's, they say that they like the idea of a new generation in the driver's seat. In their view, Afghans should follow the Americans' lead when they go to their own polls next year and pick a next-generation president committed to breaking with the country's failed past.

"I am optimistic that Obama might bring some change, not only in Afghanistan but across the world," says one leading Afghan human rights advocate from her offices near a refugee camp whose only shelter is a blue tarp from the UN. Dirt-covered children play in the mud nearby. "Enough is enough, we are thirsty for peace."

Just how a President Obama would bring peace to this devastated country plagued by poverty, insecurity, and insurgency remains unanswered. But a fragile heap of hopes here are pinned on his victory.