Afghan lives ten years after the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom

October 5, 2011

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How have the lives of the Afghan people been affected during the 10 years since the US-led invasion of  the country in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States?

That was the focus of  October’s First Wednesday discussion at Frontline Club, which was hosted by Paddy O’Connell, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House.  

Amid a catalogue of failures and missed opportunities outlined by the panel, Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan researcher for Amnesty International, insisted that there have been "tremendous positive changes" in the lives of women since Operation Enduring Freedom was launched by the US government in October 2001.

Women have experienced improvements in education, healthcare, freedom of expression and improved political participation, rights and freedom of movement, said Mosadiq: "No one is lashing you for not walking with a man." 

Dawood Azami, a journalist working for the BBC World Service in London and a visiting scholar, said that in a decade during which 10,000 Afghans had been killed people’s experience was of "one step forward and two steps back":

"There are signs of improvement in media, education, in construction and communications, but the biggest challenge that Afghans have today and for the past 10 years is insecurity followed by bad governance."

Violence has increased in a country where war has become a part of life for Afghan people:

"But there was always an outside actor they blamed for using the country for their own strategic interests," Azami said.

Lucy Morgan Edwards, former political advisor to the EU Ambassador in Kabul, was not convinced that the Afghan leadership wanted peace talks and argued that the international community had squandered a "golden opportunity" in 2001 to have the ultimate Taliban reconciliation with the Haqqani network and Abdul Haq, the Pashtun mujahideen commander who was executed by the Taliban in 2001 and the the former king Zahir Shah, who died in 2007:

"I’m afraid we blew it and it’s far more complicated now to deal with it," said  Morgan Edwards who added that one of the biggest mistakes made by the international community was the "real politik of basically hiring these warlords to do our dirty work":

"They were not thinking in the long term and are now wondering why the place is so corrupt and why there is so much intimidation and violence in the regions," she said. 

Looking ahead, Mosadiq said that Afghans across the country had told her that if the international forces leave in 2014 their greatest concern was the legacy it would leave behind:

"Are they going to leave us institutions that are strong and can protect Afghans against harm? Are they going to leave Afghanistan in a situation where we can restore rule of law and have a functioning government?

"Many Afghan women believe there ahead of talks with the Taliban there are already behind doors discussions and compromises that are happening and unfortunately women’s rights will be sacrificed," said Mosadiq, who rejected any "romanticised" ideas that Afghans wanted the return of the Taliban.

"In south Afghanistan people say we can defend ourselves against the Taliban, we can just kick them out of the village, but we don’t know if under the new reconciliation process the same Taliban commander will return as district governor and he’s going to massacre me and the whole village." 

Edward Girardet, journalist, writer and producer who has reported widely from humanitarian and conflict zones, described Afghanistan as a "traumatised nation" and added that it was in need of "intelligent" recovery programmes and investment that did not involve bringing in "massive outside corporations" that require mercenaries to protect them.

"We cannot go back to 2001 but we can go back to the basics," said Girardet, who warned against repeating the mistake of the 1990s when Afghanistan was "totally abandoned":

"The international community needs to remain involved with Aghanistan, but much more intelligently," he concluded.  "It doesn’t need these billions of dollars being thrown at it, it needs intelligent development."

The hashtag for this event is #fcfw