The sale of government jobs, unexplained killings, abductions by the Taleban and a severe drought that has resulted in a nearly complete crop failure this year. It is difficult to say what is worse for the people in Andkhoi, the security situation or economic crisis, our guest blogger Marga Flader who works for a German volunteer aid group reports from this area in the northern province of Faryab.
VUSAF*, the Union of Assistance for Schools in Afghanistan (shorter known as ‘Afghanistan-Schulen’ in Germany), has worked in the Andkhoi region, in the northwest of Afghanistan, since the withdrawal of the Soviet troops in 1992. My first visit was in 1998 and I have been back regularly – the last time in 2011 in spring and autumn. I have seen some changes over this time – not only that with our help around 35,000 children attend proper schools, 46 per cent of them girls. Instead of having only one girls’ school in 1998, there is now a school for girls in every village. In the last ten years after the fall of the Taleban, roads have been built, the area was connected to electricity supply from Turkmenistan which also brought along television, radio and internet and now almost everyone uses mobile telephones.
However, some people in power are still the same as during my first visit. Some have been promoted to jobs outside the area. Other’s influence faded – like General Dostum’s. Security in the area deteriorated in the last five years. The government is criticized by the people we talk to for not bringing security to the area and generally for not doing enough and being corrupt. Hearing this from people whose honesty is also questionable is almost funny. It made a good topic for discussion. Every government position in the area is being sold. The price to get a job, for example, as a teacher is between USD 500 or USD 1,000. Attempts to eradicate corruption are rare. People who are the victims of corruption, i.e. people who are forced to pay bribes feel threatened now that they might be arrested for giving bribes – this has been announced by local government officials as an attempt to fight corruption -, but those who are taking them happily are not brought to justice.
As security has also deteriorated again in the province of Faryab, we had to cut our last visit short mainly because of the fears of our partners in Afghanistan. It seems that in the Andkhoi area foreign terrorist groups (probably based in Pakistan) have hired local people and they are now operating quite openly even inside the town. We were told during the last visit that they walk around with guns in the night. One night such group gathered outside the home of a government employee threatening him. They did not break the gate but the incident forced him to leave the town with his family the next day to return to his home town. At wedding parties well known people get telephone calls saying, ‘You are sitting very close to the music. Don’t you think it is time to stop it?’. Obviously the people who send the threatening messages are sitting in the wedding party. Apparently, the musicians pay money so that they can play at all. In this respect an incident which happened in June 2010 is interesting: A young man who had caught the person who had killed the principal of Qaramqul High School in 2008 was kidnapped and taken to a Taleban camp some four hours away in Darzab district in the province of Jowzjan. The police did not do anything to secure his release, therefore the elders went and managed to free him. During the negotiations with the Taleban, they were told that the young men had only been kidnapped in order to convey the demands of the Taleban to the people in the Andkhoi area. One of the demands was the closure of the wedding hall (which was indeed closed). Another demand regarding girls’ education was unclear: either they allowed it up to 12 years of age or up to 12th grade . Other demands were not to cooperate with the government but to work together with the Taleban shadow government which had been set up in the area.
People living in the villages are even more worried about security than the people in the town of Andkhoi. Fighters loyal to Taleban are based in the jungle area near Dawlatabad and Qaramqul. In the last week of November, the head of police of Qaramqul district was gunned down. From time to time the young men go back to their own villages and stop their sisters from going to school or attending literacy courses. Some join the Taleban for economic reasons: Taleban pay their recruits around US$ 200 per month and jobs are scarce. Some private madrassas generate unhealthy influence seemingly supporting Taleban views.
When asked about the presence of foreign military forces, we were told that Afghanistan was like an adolescent trying to be independent but not yet capable of fending for himself. The foreign forces would be welcome to help to overcome the terrorists which are working in the country, but if the foreigners were not acting like friends, then they would not be welcome anymore. We were informed that Americans have been seen inside an Afghan army base in the town of Andkhoi, that they are building an airport nearby and an American base near the Turkmen/Iranian border. It seems that facts are already being cemented which would not easily be changed irrespective of what decision the ‘Traditional Loya Jirga’ or the parliament might have been.
There is no trust in the police force or the judiciary. It seems the state police is unable or unwilling to stop crimes being committed or to uncover who is behind them or they arrest the wrong people just to do something. Rumours spread easily, nobody is certain about anything which increases the feeling of insecurity. In September 2011 a mullah who taught girls to recite the Holy Quran was killed at the gate of his home in Andkhoi. Young men were killed and people say they do not know the reason why. A former commander got killed in revenge for something which happened 15 years ago. These killings happened within a few weeks in September and October 2011. No one leaves the house in the dark. People are worried to open the door in the evening. If possible, influential people hire guards for their protection. Our regional director also employs a guard after some people tried to climb over the high walls surrounding his house and garden. We were also heavily guarded during our stay in Andkhoi.
We do not know what is worse for the people in the area – the security situation or the drought which resulted in a nearly 100 per cent crop failure this year.
The spring rains did not come which meant that over a period of almost 10 months there was no rain; the river and the irrigation channels stayed dry until November. The habit of cutting the dried shrubs in autumn for use as ‘fire wood’ does not help the environment, i.e. desertification is increasing. Young people are leaving the area for Mazar, Kabul and, if possible, even further in search of work. Some families sent their sons on their way to Europe in their desperate search of better living conditions. Those who stay often have to go without or very little food. There is food to be bought at the markets but the money for it is not there. The money to take a sick child to hospital is not there (there is only one hospital with 20 beds for more than 400.000 people). The hospital treatment by the doctors should be free while the patients would have to pay for all medicine and materials required, however, unfortunately, often the doctors also ask for money. The World Food Programme (WFP) distributes biscuits to school children to try to overcome malnutrition for the children. Other NGOs run literacy courses for women and give food supplied by WFP as incentive.
Our organisation was asked to help the school staff with food (flour, rice, oil) so that they can stay in the area and do their work and we are grateful that we found a donor for the funding. We hope to carry out another income generating project in spring; we want to help families to start small chicken farms so that they can supply their family’s need with eggs and chickens and raise some income; around 50 USD/month is possible. We also hope to keep the other projects going (educational courses to prepare for university, courses for older girls and women, construction of school buildings) as they do not only help improve the level of education but also give jobs to people in the rural areas. These projects are needed and wanted. We heard that in the villages some girls face problems about going to school, but in the town we were surprised to see so many confident young women going to work as teachers or going to school expressing their wishes to continue their studies at university. It is great to meet the young people who are so interested in education and who ‘want to become a doctor or engineer and serve my country’. They go to school and come to preparatory courses, English or computer courses every day. They know how important education is and want to better future for themselves and for the country.
Of course, it is very difficult for our colleagues in Afghanistan to do a good job. They worry constantly about their lives, are overburdened with work and still try to continue the educational projects as before. Of course, continuing the projects depends on their hard work under extremely difficult conditions and on us trying to obtain the necessary funding from our donors which is also difficult because of the bad news in German media. It is our sincere wish to convince our supporters to continue their help for our projects until the new generation being educated now can take over and bring the necessary changes.
* Verein zur Unterstützung von Schulen in Afghanistan e.V. (see the website here). Marga Flader is the head of this association since 2003.
This article was last updated on 31 Mar 2020