U.S.-Taliban peace deal

Bleak days in Afghanistan

Developments in recent days have revealed – unsurprisingly – that Donald Trump's recent "peace deal" with the Taliban is barely worth the paper it was written on. What is clear, however, is that the next president of Afghanistan, whoever that may be, will inherit a nation that has long since ceased to function. Emran Feroz reports from Mussahi

A small group of men, and children who quickly grow bored, are standing by the riverside. All of them staring at the contraption before them – a small water pump, which despite their best efforts, won’t switch on. A young man tries to set it in motion by pushing at the gear and pulling at the engine, all the while staring at the tube protruding from the lifeless pump.

The water in the river remains still and calm. The pump, sent by a relative who spent the last two decades in Germany, simply will not work. It is an all too typical story in the Mussahi district of Kabul province, 30 kilometres south of the capital, where many things have not functioned for some time. And that tells a larger story. Much like Mussahi’s water pump, most of Afghanistan isn’t functioning either, at least outside the major cities.

Eighteen years after the U.S.-led invasion, the city of Kabul has gone through several transformations. The city is now dotted with high-rises that fill the skyline, roads are slowly being paved and monuments of past eras renovated.

Urban elites in Kabul

A small, burgeoning moneyed class is also fuelling the slow growth of Western-style coffee shops, complete with $1 lattes. This transformation has been topped off with many gated mansions and fancy wedding halls – places where urban elites display their wealth.

Only a short drive south of the city lies a different world, however, one that has been left behind by the years of poverty and war. Mussahi has been a part of Kabul province for decades now, but it is one of the districts of the province that is under the de facto control of the Taliban. And Mussahi is just one of many.

Coaxing an old German water pump back to life in Mussahi (photo: Emran Feroz)
Left to their own devices: while Washington alone has poured more than a trillion dollars into the country during the last 18 years, the only "aid" that can be found in Mussahi is a defective German water pump from the 1950s. "There has not been any other aid. We have many problems here, especially with farming. But as you can see, we have to figure out how this pump works. It is sad that we have remained so backward, but nobody is interested in our plight," said Mohammad Azif, a farmer from Mussahi

Often, it appears as if rural Afghanistan does not exist in the minds of many urbanites. Especially in Kabul, political elites have always tended to live in a bubble. Nor is this a new phenomenon; it has happened over and over again.

When the British tried to take over Afghanistan, their installed monarchs ruled in Kabul, while rural Afghans organised the resistance. When the Soviets invaded the country, people in the cities benefitted from housing projects and infrastructure. At the same time, countless villages were wiped off the map by the Red Army and its Afghan Communist allies.

President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which largely consists of Westernised technocrats, often holding dual citizenships and sometimes unable to speak the local languages, has not been able to change this repetitive reality. Instead, it has been absorbed by it, creating its very own bubble.

Disillusionment in the provinces

While Ghani was celebrating the 100th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence in the newly renovated Darul Aman palace in Kabul last August, American airstrikes and night raids conducted by CIA-backed Afghan militias reached a peak in the provinces. What is more, Ghani’s entire government is wholly dependent on economic and military aid. To many Afghans, it appeared more than paradoxical to celebrate their country's alleged independence under such circumstances. 

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