“They were never cruel to us, and the one difference was security. It was better during the Taliban,” he said.
His partner in the shop, Mohammed Haider, said poppy farmers who planted substitute crops such as cotton are losing money because they cannot sell their harvests. He predicted poppy production would double when foreign soldiers leave in 2014.
‘We are completely destroyed’
At a bus stop in Helmand’s provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, residents scrambled for dilapidated old buses and cars to go to parts of Helmand.
Hamidullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name, was waiting for a bus to Sangin district – the scene of some of the most violent fighting between the Taliban and British and U.S. forces.
Like the majority of those at the stop, he wanted foreign forces to leave Afghanistan.
“All these foreign soldiers are here, and it is totally insecure everywhere in Helmand,” Hamidullah said. “For the time that they are in Afghanistan, we will always have war.”
Several of the men scrambling on top of the packed buses and jamming themselves into the back of cars seemed to growl at the presence of foreigners in their midst.
A single question: “What is the situation like in Helmand today?” brought a cacophony of answers. Many of the voices sounded angry, some sounded weary, and a few angry-looking men walked away.
“We are completely destroyed today,” Hamidullah said.
“The situation is getting worse and worse,” shouted a voice in the crowd.
Another yelled: “There is no security because of the foreigners.” And from a deeply wrinkled elderly man whose voice seemed both angry and sad: “If the foreigners are out of Afghanistan, all the problems will be solved. Are our lives any better?”
Trouble in Helmand
Analysts who know Helmand say a corrupt government poses one of the biggest hurdles to stability, alienating the local population and driving them into the hands of the Taliban.