TOPICS > Nation

Rebuilding Afghanistan

December 19, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


TRISTANA MOORE: The Taliban are no longer to be seen. There’s talk of peace now in Kabul. We went to the city’s main bazaar today to meet the money changers. For them, business has never been better. Yesterday I changed the money and it was 35 pounds. And what is your rate? The Russians are now helping to print the national currency, the Afghani, which economists say has stabilized. But there are still daily fluctuations. As a parting gesture last month, the Taliban plundered more than $5 million from the central bank.

SPOKESMAN: (Translated): The Afghani is down. There is no agriculture, no industry to speak of here. We’ve had more than two decades of war. Many people have no jobs. It’s little surprise that the currency has lost its value.

TRISTANA MOORE: At Kabul’s telephone exchange, united front or Northern Alliance soldiers took us to the nerve center of operations, a room buzzing with activity. The Germans donated this phone system 50 years ago and it survived repeated bombings. Today, only half of Kabul residents can make a call, and even then it’s pretty unreliable. The engineer told us that it often takes him more than an hour to phone a local number. And what about the postal service here? Well, I’ve come to the only post office in town, Baktar Speedy Post, to see if I can send this letter. There’s no state-run post office in Kabul, only this privately run company, which ironically, was set up by the Taliban.

SPOKESMAN: All government offices, right now, they are not operated. We are picking up from here, and from our sources to Pakistan we are sending to England.

TRISTANA MOORE: Almost two thirds of power lines in Afghanistan don’t work. In Kabul, there are daily power cuts. At the city’s biggest substation, Abdullah Sultani told me he hasn’t been paid for six months. The United Front hasn’t been able to give him a salary either. Half of the buildings in Kabul were destroyed in the civil war of the early ’90s — hardly surprising, then, that many institutions barely exist. The new interim government needs massive foreign investment, but must also involve Afghans themselves in rebuilding their country.

SPOKESMAN: It needs security as a precondition for that, and it needs allotted resources, and it needs somehow to have this delicate sense of Afghan ownership for the whole process, and it’s going to be very difficult to weigh a lot of conflicting issues as we move forward.

TRISTANA MOORE: With the fighting in Kabul now over, many refugees are starting to come back, occupying ruined houses. Fazia lives here with her husband and four children. She says food is still expensive and water supplies erratic. “I want my children to become doctors, engineers, and teachers,” she says. “They must go to school.” After a month in power in Kabul, the United Front claims life is improving for Afghans. Major public works programs are already underway.

SPOKESMAN (Translated): Our first priority is to rebuild the roads in Afghanistan. We started working on the road from Kabul to Mazar and Jalalabad. Then we’ll be able to link up all the big cities.

TRISTANA MOORE: A third of all Afghans depend on food aid for their survival. These women in Kabul have been waiting for three days to get their 50 kilos of wheat. Despite talk of liberation now that the Taliban days are over, the women are still wearing their burqas, and many don’t have any jobs.

WOMAN (Translated): We suffered so long under the Taliban. I couldn’t go out and work. I’m a teacher but I have no job. Why should I be forced to queue to get food?

WOMAN: When I see my people here, I became very unhappy. If our country had enough budgets, money… Our people never came here for the particulars WFB. This is nothing for our people.

TRISTANA MOORE: The World Food Program is now organizing the biggest distribution of aid in Kabul. But outside the capital, many Afghans have still not received any food at all because roads are blocked by bandits and warlords. Rebuilding Afghanistan will depend on the ability of the interim government to maintain law and order, as well as the long-term commitment of the international community.