(AFP) – Oct 31, 2008
KABUL (AFP) — Afghans are backing Barack Obama for US president in the hope he will rescue them from an ever-deadly extremist Islamic insurgency wracking their nation and dashing hopes for a better future.
The Democrat's pledges to strike militant bases in Pakistan, boost US troop levels and return the focus of the US "war on terror" to this region have outshone any impression Republican John McCain might have made.
"We like Obama because in his first speech he said he would defeat our enemies in Pakistan, the Taliban in Pakistan, that he will attack terrorists," said a Kabul money changer who would only give his name as Emal.
The 30-year-old said he knew little of McCain or his plans.
Afghans acknowledge that any new US president is not going to mean a radical departure from Washington's plans for Afghanistan.
But some believe McCain would be just too much like the outgoing President George W. Bush.
"He is just as old as Bush," said Masihullah Amin, 32, the owner of a successful construction company in Kabul. "The current Bush policy in Afghanistan seems to me a failed policy."
He said Obama was "from the young generation and he has a young mind".
"He is decisive and decisions will bring solutions for the current situation in Afghanistan," he told AFP.
Seven years after the austere Taliban regime was driven out by a US-led invasion, Afghans are increasingly pessimistic about the future, with a poll by The Asia Foundation saying this week almost two thirds do not believe the country is moving in the right direction.
One of the main reasons is security.
Insurgent violence has steadily spread from the main battlegrounds the south and east -- regions bordering Pakistan where Afghans have long said insurgents have bases -- with even areas just outside Kabul said to be in Taliban hands.
The number of insurgent attacks has increased with each month this year seeing 30-50 percent more than last year, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Organisation watchdog.
This is despite the efforts of nearly 70,000 foreign troops, including about 33,000 from the United States, a force commanders say is not enough to hold areas taken from the rebels. It is nearly half the size of that in Iraq.
Obama would switch the focus to Afghanistan, said Sultan Ahmad Sultani in the southern province of Helmand where authorities admit Taliban insurgents control several districts and even UN polio vaccination teams are at risk.
"He has been saying he will pull out troops from Iraq and put more troops in Afghanistan," he said.
The 2001 US-led invasion that drove out the Taliban regime initially saw some positive developments, the 43-year-old said, listing the 2004 and 2005 elections, a new constitution and the installation of a new government.
"But now it seems that all is going to collapse because Taliban have limited the government control and the international community is not that interested in Afghanistan any more," the businessman said.
"America has lost many chances here in Afghanistan."
Abdul Wakil, a money changer in Helmand, blamed his country's mounting problems on the government headed by President Hamid Karzai, which is due to campaign for re-election next year despite facing accusations of corruption.
"All the troubles we have today -- the violence, the terror and the Taliban attacks -- are because of the weakness of our government," he said.
"A strong US leader will support a strong leader for Afghanistan. The only person who could do that, I think, is Obama."
The United States accounts for the most international troops in Afghanistan but has contributed only about one-third of the roughly 15 billion dollars in development aid spent since 2001.
It has built 2,700 kilometres of roads and more than 680 schools, according to the government's development agency, USAID.
It has constructed or refurbished over 670 clinics and trained 10,600 health workers and thousands more judges, teachers, journalists. It has also worked on power dams, printed text books and supported charities.
There has been criticism of the quality of some foreign-led construction, charges that a large portion of aid money returns to donor nations including in the form of high salaries for international staff, and complaints about the attitudes of US soldiers towards Afghans.
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