Tahmina’s enduring memory of living under the Taliban was crying all night just before Eid, one of the biggest celebrations in the Muslim calendar, because she couldn’t go to the market in Kandahar with her mother to get treats.
The Taliban didn’t allow women or girls out like that. She was then 11 years old and said she asked her mother that night why Afghanistan was the way it was.
Now 21, Tahmina is studying to be a midwife, taking a business-development course and has also learned English.
“We have good luck now,” she says. “Today we can come out of our homes, we can work, but we will always have security problems.”
Tahmina covered her face, all except for her eyes, to speak to us on camera, reflecting the still-conservative attitudes here.
Despite threats against her school, and taunts by men in the street, she remains undaunted. “If we stop our life, or say ‘security is not good, I won’t go to work, then Afghanistan wouldn’t progress, like other countries,” she said.
It will take Tahmina another two years to become a midwife. Just as NATO forces are scheduled to leave, in 2014.
Here in Kandahar, like with much of Afghanistan, it’s difficult to know exactly what is going on.
The deputy police commander says the situation is “normal” and that his police have made the city safe. He also says 120 of his officers have been killed in the past three months.
While passing through security just to get to his office inside the police compound, our bags were searched four separate times, even though at least two of the stops were in full view of one another.
Distrust is to be expected in a country where a number of high-level officials have been murdered in their own homes or offices including the Afghan president’s own brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, in July here in Kandahar.
Shopkeepers in the city were reluctant to talk about the Taliban, or security. One said that anyone who talks is killed.
Afghans say privately that the Taliban still has a lot of power in the countryside around Kandahar. NATO forces may patrol the area, but the Taliban threaten and cajole the local population.
The resurgence of the Taliban and its ally the Haqqani network around the country are not the only disappointments for an Afghan people who thought everything had changed a decade ago.
In the early years there were high hopes and expectations that after decades of war Afghanistan would now flourish. And in some ways it has. There are signs of prosperity in the cities.
Kabul and Kandahar have highrise buildings and new neighbourhoods. Afghans have cell phones, computer access and television among other things not allowed under Taliban rule.
Here in Kandahar, though, new building stalled about four years ago because of insecurity. Too may suicide bombers destroyed or damaged too many new sites, and people became reluctant to invest.
There is still only one hospital here, with just over 400 beds to serve the four million people of Afghanistan’s southern provinces. The ICRC spokeswoman says the population has a hard time getting to health care, because of mined roads, long detours and general insecurity. Poverty too plays a role.
Many rural Afghans she says will only seek medical help when it’s a serious case. Otherwise they don’t feel they can afford the travel or treatment.
Rural clinics are having problems too, according to the ICRC. Clinic staff are intimidated or threatened and some clinics are being used for non-medical activities, making them vulnerable to attack by Afghan authorities.
A report by a group of non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan, ACBAR, says the $57bn invested in healthcare and education over the past decade has brought progress, but called the standard of services “patchy and inadequate.”
Some here say the expectations were just too high, and must be readjusted. Others believe more cultural understanding is needed to create lasting change here. And still others claim things are getting better, that it will just take more time.
But Afghans are definitely concerned.
On the heels of last month’s murder of the government’s top peace envoy, Burhanaddin Rabbini, an audacious assault on the US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, as well as a host of other assassinations, and bold attacks in the past few months all over the country, security has become a major concern for many.
Insecurity creates uncertainty, uncertainty curbs progress, and that’s exactly what opponents of the government or NATO forces seem to want.
It’s pomegranate harvest time here in Kandahar a crop the region is famous for. Farmers have a dilemma. There are two main roads to bring their fruit to market.
One has been closed by the Taliban, the other by NATO’s ISAF forces. Many here still aren’t sure which one to turn to.