Karzai Hears Regional Woes

Provincial delegates pour out their troubles to Afghanistan's newly elected leader.

Karzai Hears Regional Woes

Provincial delegates pour out their troubles to Afghanistan's newly elected leader.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

President-elect Hamed Karzai suggested Saturday prolonging the Loya Jirga meeting by another day and in return got a long shopping list of grievances from delegates representing poverty-stricken provinces around Afghanistan.

"I propose you have another day to say all the things there hasn’t been time to say and maybe I will have something to tell you at the end," said Karzai, addressing the 1650 delegates in the morning.

The assembly, whose opening was delayed by 24 hours because of apparent negotiations over whether the ex-king should run for political office, was due to end tomorrow. The event is now likely to run into Monday.

Observers said they thought Karzai was buying extra time to continue intricate talks about the make-up of his future government. He has to strike a balance between recognising the influence and strength of the Northern Alliance, which prevailed in the interim administration because it was the only force which withstood the Taleban, and the need to form a more inclusive and technocratic government.

In the meantime, delegates from the floor raised everything from the issue of Taleban prisoners still held by the Northern Alliance, to schools, health, utilities, locusts and dependent families.

"The dam of Shah Wali Kot district of Qandahar is full of mud, which locals can't clearance," said Abdul Hamid Babai. "If it is not removed the people around Qandahar will be faced with many problems."

Across the country, Afghans report a falling water table which is having disastrous effects on sanitation. Village wells that traditionally yielded basic amounts of useable water at 20 metres are now often dry despite being drilled to twice that depth.

"The students of Qandahar University are sleeping in the mosques because they don’t have any hostel," Babi continued. "There isn’t a unified educational curriculum across Afghanistan. The smuggling of (cultural) artifacts from Qandahar should be stopped."

And that was just Qandahar. Throughout the day, a basic picture built up through the delegates’ speeches of Afghanistan as the statistics show it - one of the poorest, unhealthiest and underdeveloped countries in the world.

General Mohammad Daud, a commander in Kundoz and representative of Takhar province, weighed in with the problems of the north. He said there were 30,000 homeless families following March’s earthquake in Nahreen; cities such as Khoja Ghar and Hazar Bagh still lie in ruins after being torched by the retreating Taleban; and a strategic bridge over the Kokcha river is wrecked, creating a transport bottleneck for up to half a million people.

Mohammad Nadir Katawazi, from Paktia in the east, said there had been so little money flowing through from Kabul that local people had got together to pay to build government buildings.

Haleema Khazan, also from Paktia, drew attention to the plight of women. She said that while there are dozens of organisations offering them financial, technical and moral support, there were none in the provinces where they were most needed, "The women of Paktia gave many sacrifices during Jihad. There are a lot with handicaps, many widows and orphans and they should be given homes, education, health and jobs."

Sher Aqa from Samangan said the province was still suffering from a plague of locusts, despite a concerted effort by central government and international agencies to wipe out the scourge.

The mujahedin, as ever this week, made their presence felt with more entreaties not to forget the sacrifice they made to liberate the country from Soviet occupation in the 1980s, but most delegates on Saturday were focused on bread and butter issues.

Karzai on Friday announced that the top project for his new government would be to rebuild the country’s destroyed road system, both to knit the country together effectively and to provide much needed work in the provinces.

Currently, it takes three days to travel from Kabul to Herat in the west of the country along the country’s main highway.

Samander Khan is an IWPR trainee journalist

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