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Afghans Grow Frustrated Waiting For Obama's Plan

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. It's not just Americans waiting for the president to announce his new strategy in Afghanistan. Afghans are waiting as well, and growing more frustrated. They want to know how the U.S. plans to tackle the crisis in their country after months of deadly attacks and increased instability. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from the capital, Kabul.

PHILIP REEVES: The ragged children playing on a freezing, bright blue day in a park in Kabul are too young to remember. They don't recall the optimism eight years ago when the United States and its allies invaded their country. They weren't around to hear all those promises of democracy, of prosperity, of equal rights for men and women.

But Ahmed Sahidi(ph) remembers it all. Sahidi's cramped apartment overlooks that park. Inside, a discussion is underway. Sahidi sits cross-legged on a rug, sipping green tea and chewing over where it all went wrong.

Mr. AHMED SAHIDI: (Through translator) The Afghan people used to think that the Americans are talking about democracy and they're going to bring democracy to Afghans. But now, everybody knows that that was a lie, and it's fake democracy.

REEVES: Sahidi is a former Afghan diplomat who writes books about the region. He's closely following the debate in Washington over President Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan. He's not very hopeful.

Mr. SAHIDI: (Through translator) Should I tell you the truth, or�

REEVES: Tell me the truth.

Mr. SAHIDI: (Through translator) With the current politician and the current situation, it's lost.

REEVES: Sahidi says no new U.S. strategy can succeed while Hamid Karzai's government is in power in Afghanistan. He believes Karzai has lost all credibility because of the massive fraud surrounding his reelection, because of his government's record for widespread corruption, and because of Karzai's alliance with some notorious warlords.

Yet, Sahidi hasn't given up all hope. He believes the U.S. may be able to work around Karzai. To do so, he says, it must insist on having a say over appointments.

Mr. SAHIDI: (Through translator) Choose good governors in the provinces, honest people, people who are patriot and loyal to the country. Spread this power from the center to have relation with the provinces rather than the center or the capital, and help them work for themselves.

Ms. SHAKRIA PANIKSAI(ph) (Human Rights Activist): Hello. Hello.

REEVES: Shakria Paniksai is a human rights activist and an independent member of Afghanistan's parliament. She's busy fielding phone calls. People want to discuss what advice she'd give Obama as he seeks to nail down his new strategy.

Ms. PANIKSAI: I would say, dear president, do not focus much about the military operation. Humanitarian aid and assistance should be top priority.

REEVES: Paniksai's also closely following the debate in Washington. She's noted with alarm the rift that's emerged among Obama's top advisors. General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, wants substantially more American troops.

The U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, a former general in Afghanistan, thinks this is a bad idea. He thinks Karzai must prove he's willing to clean up his act before the U.S. sends a significant number of extra forces. Paniksai thinks this disagreement suggests the U.S. still hasn't worked out its goals in Afghanistan.

Ms. PANIKSAI: The lack of one vision is the main obstacle today. So for eight years we say that you don't know what you are doing as an American in Afghanistan, and there's time for organization and Afghan ideas to be on top of the agendas, because we know our community and society better than anyone else.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

REEVES: Another discussion's going on here across town, also about what to do next in Afghanistan. A mostly foreign audience has gathered to hear from a panel of experts that includes Alexander Thier of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Thier's worried time could be running out.

Mr. ALEXANDER THIER (U.S. Institute of Peace): If we don't show appreciable results in the next two years, I think that we could reach a tipping point where the international community will lose confidence, the Afghan people will lose confidence and the whole project could potentially collapse.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

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