At the end of the war, the people of Marja became increasingly desperate for any kind of help, which turned out to be as angry as if the international community had abandoned them.
Marja, Afghanistan – Haji Rosi Khan stood outside the gate of the Thodak building, which houses the government offices in the Marja district, and peered into the compound through a perforated iron door. Taliban guards looked back. They were not the ones he was looking for.
Mr. Khan rode his motorcycle several miles from his village to the district center of Marja in Helmand province, where he kicked dust as he walked on long-damaged, unpaved roads. He was looking for a man who had been more elusive since the Taliban came to power in August: an aide.
“We have nothing to eat,” he said in an interview last month.
Once upon a time, Marja, one of the greatest wars of two decades, was part of the US counter-insurgency campaign to weaken the Taliban and form a local government. But today, the grid-like connection of mud-walled villages and canals seems to have been the same as it was at the beginning of the invasion in 2001: seldom-traveled roads, staff shortages and damaged schools and hospitals, and withered crops, paralyzed by drought. In decades.
As Afghanistan plunges deeper into a humanitarian crisis, Marja’s residents are still reeling from the aftermath of the war. Many are now realizing that in the midst of a collapsing economy and a devastating harvest, where most people live above the poverty line, foreign aid, which had been their livelihood for 20 years, has been virtually cut off overnight. A frustration that has shaped the anger that the international community seems to have abandoned them, they are growing increasingly distrustful of help.
Marja residents are also coming to terms with a new Taliban government that may have brought peace, but with declining money and a lack of foreign aid they could not provide anything else.
“The government can’t help themselves, we can’t help ourselves,” he said. Khan said a small group of farmers gathered outside the district center and voiced similar complaints to the local government.
This is a tragic but almost inevitable turning point for a district in southern Afghanistan that has become a symbol of the West’s trillion-dollar nation-building effort, which collapsed before the Americans left the country completely in August. Many in Marja rejoiced to see the end of foreign occupation and the Taliban seizure of power, as it claimed the lives of countless civilians and brought stability to the region after years of widespread destruction.
Mr. Khan lived for almost 30 years on the edge of Marja, where he grew wheat, cotton and corn, his crop affected by last year’s drought. That same year, his nephew was killed in a roadside bombing.
Afghanistan under Taliban rule
With the withdrawal of US troops on August 30, Afghanistan soon returned to Taliban control. Across the country, there is widespread concern about the future.
The unrest has deepened this year with the arrival of about 20 displaced families from central Afghanistan. They were hungry and homeless, so before going to the district center, he said he gave them some food in the hope that there would be someone else to help.
“We are very tired,” he said. Khan said, his blue shalwar kameez flashed in the morning air.
In recent weeks, the United States and the European Union have pledged an additional $ 1.29 billion in aid to Afghanistan. The World Bank team froze $ 280 million to donors in late November.
In addition to the sanctions, the Taliban government’s inability to provide for its people stems from its inexperience in administration, which was made clear in a visit to the district office in Marja.
Mullah Abdul Salam Husseini, 37, the governor of the district of Marja, was seated inside a squatter government building renovated by Americans a decade ago. The newly-appointed local leader has spent the best part of the last 20 years – mainly his entire adulthood – trying to kill US and NATO forces as a Taliban fighter.
Now he finds himself in crisis in a district of about 80,000 people, with no support for his constituencies in finance, infrastructure or public-service experience.
People line up at the gates of the campus with complaints and demands: Do something about displaced refugees; Creating a new health hospital; Help farmers whose crops have been destroyed; Find more teachers for the only school left in Marja.
“Whatever people ask, I ask because we are not in a position to do it ourselves,” he said. Husseini said quietly, surrounded by Taliban who seemed more comfortable behind the gun than the desk. “We need the help of foreigners because they did it before and we ask them to do it again.”
Inside the governor’s dimly lit office, the walls and window sills were adorned with Kalashnikov rifles and other weapons seized from the previous government, and sat a representative of a local relief committee that had come to inspect the district for the World Food Program and its food needs. The organization is still distributing basic food items, but the growing demand is greater than their distribution.
For years, the rebel group controlled the pockets of Afghanistan and stimulated the shadow economy by expelling the previous government’s foreign-filled treasuries through taxes for everyone in their region, including truck drivers and aid workers. But such actions cannot offset the loss of external assistance.
“The Taliban did not seem to have a sense of how the economy depended on foreign support, and they benefited just as much as the others,” said Kate Clark, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. “Even in areas under Taliban control, they do not fund schools and clinics.”
Marja, a district that has long relied on growing poppy for its own illegal economy taxed by the Taliban, was built by the United States as an agricultural project that diverted water from the Helmand River to separate stages in the late 1950s and 1960s.
In 2010, during the uprising of President Barack Obama’s forces, thousands of Western and Afghan troops defended a network of canals and fields in a major military offensive, and later pledged roads, schools and a functioning local government. Considered the last Taliban stronghold in central Helmand, Marja was a strategically important district in the eyes of military planners. He concluded that a victory there was crucial to Obama’s new anti-insurgency strategy.
Koru Chareh Bazaar, a collection of substandard, low-lying iron door shops, where some of the U.S. troops have been since 2010. “They came at night,” Abdul Kabir recalled. Helicopters landed nearby.
As a boy, he watched as sailors in brown uniforms walked through the desert and spoke nothing to him.
But this November, the only sign of American aggression was the “Trump 2020 Keep America Great” flag wrapped around a shopkeeper’s peanut stand and a Confederate flag hanging in a nearby barn. A sidewalk that separates Marja from north to south is the most important U.S. infrastructure in the district, built as part of the more than $ 4 billion stabilization fund poured into the country in the United States.
“It’s good the fight is over,” he said. Kabir stood near his currency exchange and focused on converting Afghans into Pakistani rupees. Very few wandered. He lived in Marja for the rest of his life, which continued the entire American occupation.
Among the many residents who praised the security situation, Mr. Kabir was one, but lamented the economic downturn. “No money, everything was expensive,” he added.
Due to volatile border controls, high import costs and cash shortages, basic commodities such as cooking oil in the bazaar are three times more expensive than before.
For vendors with unique memories of the explosions and shootings that killed their friends fighting outside their homes, the economic crisis and America’s unwillingness to recognize the Taliban are perceived as punishments against them, not the new government.
Ali Mohammed, 27, who runs a chicken stand at the main junction of the bazaar, has borne the brunt of the war for years. He saw that he had been shot by Americans in a field a few hundred feet from where he now sells foodless birds. According to him, the situation in his country was a new stage of conflict.
“Foreigners say they’re not here anymore,” he said. “But they did not end the war against us.”