Life grim for Afghans after 10 years of war

‘Every street has its own ruler’ in country without security, good government

A girl peeks out of a window of her school in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Taliban denied schooling to girls, so progress has been made, but the school director says his life is constantly in danger. 
A girl peeks out of a window of her school in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Taliban denied schooling to girls, so progress has been made, but the school director says his life is constantly in danger.
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KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTANAsif Khan sits on a dirty, once-white blanket in an abandoned cinema and fights back tears of desperation.

He can’t find a job for his eldest son, who “even knows computers,” without paying a bribe. He can’t afford uniforms, books or pencils for his nine daughters to go to school.

And so they all live with him in the old cinema, where mangled rebar dangles like tentacles from the ceiling and a cold wind whips through windows with no glass.

It’s a long way from the optimism Mr. Khan felt when he returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan after the U.S. defeated the Taliban in 2001. Now, he says, “I have no hope.”

As the U.S. and NATO mark 10 years of war in Afghanistan on Friday, a grim picture emerges from scores of interviews over six months across the country with ordinary Afghans, government officials, soldiers, and former and current Taliban, along with recent data.

The difference between the often optimistic assessment of U.S. generals and the reality on the ground for Afghans is stark.

There are signs of progress - an important one is that schools are open. More than 6 million children are in school today, according to the United Nations.

During the Taliban rule, girls were denied schooling, and before that, most schools were closed because of fighting. The media also are flourishing, with several newspapers, weekly magazines and 10 television channels in operation.

But for Afghans, it has been a decade of one step forward and two steps back.

Afghanistan is failing in two major areas in particular: security and good government. Violence has risen this year with increasingly brazen attacks and has spread to the once-peaceful north of the country.

Widespread corruption is bedeviling attempts to create a viable Afghan government and institutions to take over when the U.S. and NATO leave in 2014.

“You know right now we have no idea who to be afraid of. We are afraid of everyone. Every street has its own ruler, own thugs,” said Rangina Hamidi, the daughter of Kandahar Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi. “I don’t feel safe going out of my house. To be honest, I have no idea what will happen.”

Just months after Ms. Hamidi spoke with the Associated Press, her father was killed in a suicide bombing.

Recent portrayals of the Afghan war by U.S. generals have been cautiously positive. International forces released data last month saying violent attacks are down.

The generals say they have gained back land in the south and that the morale of the Taliban is sinking.

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