In 2014 Afghanistan will enter its thirty-fifth year of conflict. But with more than 40 nations providing military and civilian aid, the current round of fighting stands out for the direct role foreign powers have taken in the post-2001 fight against the Taliban.
During the Cold War, everyone from Washington to Tehran and Islamabad conducted covert operations in the Central Asian nation, but this time there have been no attempts to veil the foreign presence in Afghanistan.
If Western media reports are to be believed, in 96 hours all eyes will be on the increasingly strained relationship between power brokers in Kabul and Washington.
For his part, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has been highly critical of the Western media’s focus on the coming year, saying they have created a “film” out of 2014.
Looking at the numerous multi-level buildings still under construction throughout the Afghan capital, however, one would be led to believe that for the people of Kabul the new Western year is just that – another year.
“If I wasn’t afraid during the 30 years of bombardment and rocket fire why would I be afraid of 2014”, said Delawar, who has resided in the capital since leaving his home province of Bamiyan more than 60 years ago.
This sentiment, that throughout decades of fighting the Afghan people have been left with little choice other than to try and carry on with their lives, was echoed by Said Ahmad, a Kabul resident who hails from Jalalabad, the next major city directly east of Kabul.
“What is 2014? Is it going to turn the sky upside down?”
Though he may not fear the coming Western year, Said Ahmad – who earns a living as a cab driver in the traffic congested streets of Kabul – is an example of the nation’s current economic realities.
With more than 360,000 Afghans having earned a living through contracts with foreign military and civilian firms, the nation’s double digit unemployment rate has been foremost on Afghan minds.
Construction may be ongoing throughout Kabul, but business owners have repeatedly complained of drops in profits.
Still, Said Ahmad said the future of the nation is up to its people.
“2014 is just a year. Why should anyone fear it? If you have iman, faith, there’s no reason to fear it.”
This reliance on the people and God, said Said Ahmad is a necessity in a nation where the people have little faith in the current leadership.
“Of course I have no trust in the politicians. If I put my faith in them, and not God, then I would fear 2014.”
Lack of trust in the political establishment was echoed by Hediatullah, a Kabul resident in his mid-forties.
For him, 2014 is old news.
“Who still talks about 2014, that’s been put to rest.”
With more than 64 per cent of the national budget coming from foreign aid, what does matter to Hediatullah is the Bilateral Security Agreement between the US and Afghanistan.
“If that isn’t signed, believe me, fighting will break out again. Even our parliament is full of fighters, every day they’re hurling bottles at one another.”
In late November, Karzai made headlines the world over for his abrupt change in tone on the pact that will stipulate the guidelines for any US forces remaining beyond the December 2014 foreign troop withdrawal.
This, after the majority of the more than 2,500 representatives gathered at a three-day “consultative” Loya Jirga, grand assembly, all urged the president to sign the BSA before the end of 2013.
Despite the international uproar caused by Karzai’s about face, some Afghans, have faith he will eventually sign the agreement.
“The US won’t leave, they have too much invested here, both monetarily and militarily”, said Said Anwar, a restaurant owner.
Abdul Wahab, one of the diners in the Shahr-e Naw eatery, said if the US does leave there are others that will fill their place.
“India will come. China will come. The world is waiting for their piece of the opportunities here”, Abdul Wahab said in reference to the estimated three trillion dollar value of the nation’s 1,400 mineral fields.
Though the value of the nation’s natural resources has certainly caught the attention of foreign capitals, most notably Beijing, the mining sector has a long way to go as Afghanistan’s great economic hope.
For Wazhma Frogh, a women’s rights activist, the challenges ahead mean the the future of the nation is up to the Afghan people.
“We survived 1979 [the Communist revolution], 1989 [Soviet withdrawal], 1996 [the year the Taliban took control] and 2001. What’s 2014?”
Qasem Foushanji, lead singer of District Unknown, an Afghan heavy metal band, agrees.
“It’s not like 2014 is gonna blow us up and we’ll be living in a post-apocalyptic state, but the road ahead will be bumpy.”
That uncertainty around the economy, cultural trends and politics means the Afghan people have to be very clear about what they want for their nation going forward.
“The most important matter is to keep what we have, because so much sweat and blood is shed for it and [almost] everyone is tired of the fighting.”