For Afghan Civilians, Life Means Being Caught in the Middle of an Unwinnable War

KABUL, May 22 (IPS) - The people of Afghanistan are increasingly caught in the crossfire between a violent insurgency and a violent counter insurgency but does this mean the entire country is unravelling?

At a recent meeting with high level NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) officials in Kabul, the independent Killid Weekly was told that "we can’t give up air strikes; they are our only real tactical advantage against the insurgency."

And the multi-dimensional insurgency’s reliance on suicide bombers leads one to think that suicide bombings would be the insurgency’s only "real advantage" against foreign and Afghan forces.

The public neither has shields big enough to protect themselves from falling bombs and exploding jihadi’s but they also lack, at this time, the political means and voice to call for an end to what has become, in its current dynamic, an un-winnable war for both sides.

The sad reality is that neither side is going to give up their military "advantages" and neither side is going to back away from a fight which is now in its ninth year and growing, no matter the consequences on a population which is already struggling with poverty, corruption, illiteracy and the legacy of war.

As British Forces pulled out of Iraq last fortnight and U.S. forces there have been given an exit strategy, the international community’s combat mission for Afghanistan is escalating with foreign troops' numbers approaching levels similar to that of the ex-Soviet Union at the height of their fight for Afghanistan.

Though still under investigation, the incident in Farah in early May (dozens of civilians were killed in U.S. air strikes in the province) is the latest example of the extent to which civilians are strangled between two powerful elements - the insurgents and US/NATO-led counter insurgency operations.

If Afghan civilians were to ask either side to lay down arms now for their sake, the answer they would get is a firm "no."

And so, what can be expected for Afghanistan as more U.S. troops arrive in the country and the insurgency they are coming to battle re-groups, recruits and rearms itself?

More civilian casualties by both sides for sure, which will in turn lead to more public demonstrations against both the insurgents and the foreign military forces such as the one held by Kabul University students this week.

But does this necessarily mean that the country is falling apart, as some analysts and journalists proclaim? Far from it.

Granted the situation in the south and the east is certainly bleak but many provinces of Afghanistan are stable and progressing. Even in the insurgency ridden southern and eastern provinces, there are Afghans who are using what means and leverage they have to hold things together and weather this storm.

Despite the dire situation, the populations in those areas of the country such as Kandahar, Helmand, Khost and Uruzgan will join the rest of the country to cast their ballots in the presidential polls in August.

Business, either driven by corruption or inspiration, will continue to grow producing new opportunities.

Despite insecurity, major development projects such as the Kajaki Dam in Helmand, the Dahla Dam and Irrigation system in Kandahar, nationwide polio eradication initiatives and various National Solidarity Programs will find a way to be implemented.

More students will express their right to a better future by attending the public and thousands of private schools opening throughout the country, even in rural areas of the south and east, and secondary and primary roads will be built connecting remote communities with the markets nationwide.

All of this will take place, even in those parts of the country where there seems to be no way out of the current despair.

Eventually these positive initiatives will create a new momentum and a window of opportunity for both sides in the current fight to save face and fade away into history, albeit slowly but surely at which time a genuinely Afghan voice, project and partnership with the region and the world will emerge.

This will not happen this year or next, but it will happen.

As with all things bad, these difficult times too shall pass but they will pass a lot faster if Afghans start standing up and fighting for a better future instead of against each other, and not with the guns of the past but with their minds.

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