When the US launched its 'Operation Enduring Freedom' to remove the Taliban in Afghanistan, the population was very optimistic that life would get better. Ten years later, most Afghans have very little hope left.
Ten years ago, Afghans were taken in by the promises made by the United States. They believed Washington when it said the military operation was not directed against them but against al Qaeda and the Taliban and that Mullah Omar's regime would be replaced by an elected government. After 20 years of war, they believed the promise that Afghanistan's reconstruction would bring security and well-being.
Habibur Rahman from Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, remembers there was a great deal of trust and people were euphoric at the beginning. "The Taliban were quickly defeated. We did not know what to expect but we hoped everything would get better."
In the capital Kabul, people were overjoyed, as one inhabitant recalls. "The Taliban left the city overnight and the next day everyone went to get their beards shaved," he says. Barbershops were so crowded that people were being shaved right on the streets.
All adult men had to wear long beards under the Taliban; women were not allowed to work and girls were not allowed to go to school and they had to be chaperoned by a male relative every time they left the house. Music, television, cinema, kite-flying and ballgames had all been banned.
"I had a leather jacket and one day I passed a Talib who shouted at me, so I took off my jacket and ripped it to pieces," another Kabul inhabitant recalls. "He said leather jackets were made out of pigskin and a Muslim should not wear such clothes."
There were thousands of such incidents every day and many Afghans were hopeful that Western intervention would put a stop to the inhumane conditions.
Their hope was not misguided at first, with a new constitution being drawn up rapidly and the first democratic elections in the country's history taking place in 2004, but soon the security situation began to deteriorate.
Every year, more and more people were killed. According to the United Nations, almost 1,500 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2011 alone.
Baffled by the broken promises
Now the Taliban are back on the scene and peace seems very far off. Many Afghans are baffled by the fact that the tens of thousands NATO-led troops have not been able to restore order and stability. Nor do they understand why the Afghan government has not been taken to task and forced to rule the country properly. Why have the Western allies allowed electoral fraud, corruption and nepotism, they wonder. Why was Hamid Karzai sworn in again with the West's blessing after there was blatant electoral fraud in 2009?
The initial euphoria has been replaced by fear. "I thought everything would get better," says Habibur Rahman in Kandahar. "But the promises were not fulfilled and the security situation is worse than it was then."
He and many other Afghans worry the Taliban and their allies will return after international troops withdraw in 2014. Nobody today believes the promise that they will not be left in the lurch.
Author: Ratbil Shamel / act
Editor: Sarah Berning