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Afghans fear what will happen when foreign troops leave
2014 pullout » Promises have done little to buoy the hopes of the people in despair about the future.
First Published Aug 02 2012 01:26 pm • Last Updated Aug 02 2012 01:29 pm

Kabul, Afghanistan • Asadullah Ramin has lost all hope in his homeland — he’s so worried about what will happen when U.S. and international troops leave that he’s ready to pay a smuggler to whisk his family out of Afghanistan.

It would cost the 50-year-old, self-employed electronics engineer tens of thousands of dollars to leave his middle-class life in the Afghan capital and start a new chapter with his wife and their three daughters. He has done OK in recent years, even getting contracts from the foreign forces, and he has warm memories of Kabul from his teens — before Soviet forces invaded the nation.

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But he wouldn’t hesitate for a moment. He already paid to have his two sons smuggled to a European county he won’t disclose.

"If I could go in the next hour, I would leave everything — the house, my shop," Ramin said, tears welling in his eyes as he spoke in his dusty workshop.

"I have no hope, no hope," he said, opening his palms as if pleading to be understood.

The United States and its allies have tried to reassure Afghans that they are not abandoning the country when international combat troops leave by the end of 2014. Donor nations have pledged billions to bankroll Afghan security forces and billions more in development aid. Country after country has signed a long-term partnership pact with Kabul.

But the promises have done little to buoy the hopes of Afghans who are in despair about the future of their nation.

Among Afghans around the country interviewed by The Associated Press, the worry is pervasive. Many are deeply skeptical that Afghan police and security forces, which the U.S.-led coalition has spent years trying to build, will be able to fight insurgents and militants without American and NATO fighting alongside. Worse-case scenarios that some fear: The Afghan forces could splinter along ethnic line and prompt civil war, the nation could plunge into a deep recession, or the Kabul government — plagued with corruption and still fragile despite efforts to establish its authority — would remain too weak to hold off a Taliban takeover.

Just a 45-minute drive south of Kabul, residents of Wardak province directly feel the tenuousness. The province is a battleground for Afghan and coalition forces trying to squash hotbeds of the Taliban. Residents quickly warn visitors that it’s dangerous just to go past a checkpoint less a kilometer (half-mile) outside the provincial capital, Maidan Shahr.

"We don’t know if the government has been successful or not," 17-year-old Mohammad Ashaq said, chatting inside a tiny pharmacy in the city. "Most people think that after 2014, the government will not exist."


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Hanging over the fears is a sense that history could repeat itself. Afghans felt abandoned by the U.S. after 1989, when the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan. U.S. support to mujahedeen fighters battling the Soviets dried up quickly and Afghanistan sank into civil war as militias and warlords battled for power, devastating Kabul. That was followed by the rise of the Taliban and years of rule under their repressive regime.

In one sign of the lack of confidence, the number of Afghan asylum seekers in 44 industrialized countries went up 34 percent in 2011 over the year before, according to the latest figures issued by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. In 2011, 35,700 Afghans sought asylum, compared to 26,000 the year before.

Another sign: the real estate market in Kabul.

Broker Mir Ahmad Shah says this is the worst of his seven years selling properties in the capital. No one wants to buy. A piece of land that went for $100,000 last year now is priced as low as $60,000, but even at that cut-rate price buyers aren’t tempted. It’s in part because of increased security worries the past year, but it’s "especially because of the announcement about the coalition leaving," he said.

"I’m not hopeful for the future and it’s not just me," he said, waving his hand toward small shops across the street where a vendor was selling live chickens. "The shopkeepers, the businessmen — they are all hopeless." One of his listings is the home of a man selling to move to Canada, he added.

The Americans insist that the pledges of international support going forward will prevent the worst from happening. The pledges make the possibility of another civil war or deep recession "unlikely scenarios," according to Ryan Crocker, who just stepped down as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

At a NATO summit in May in Chicago, NATO members agreed to help the Afghan government bankroll its security forces post-2014. Earlier this month in Tokyo, the international community pledged $16 billion in aid — at least through 2015 — to further help rebuild.

"We are not even imagining abandoning Afghanistan," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a stop in Kabul en route to the Tokyo gathering. She announced that Afghanistan was the newest "major non-NATO ally" — a statement of political support for the country’s long-term stability and close defense cooperation.

Afghan, U.S. and coalition officials believe Afghan forces are getting more capable day by day. They boast that while insurgents remain a threat, they have been forced out of population centers. Seventy-five percent of the Afghan population lives in areas where security is being transferred to Afghan forces, they said.

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