Want a billion dollars in development aid? If you happen to live in Afghanistan, the two quickest ways to attract attention and so aid from the U.S. authorities are: Taliban attacks or a florishing opium trade. For those with neither, the future could be bleak.
Just outside one of the many single-room mud houses that line the floor of Dragon Valley, I met Abdul Karim, an unskilled laborer who has been looking daily for work in the fields or on construction sites since he returned from Iran a year ago. Most days, he comes home empty-handed. "We have nothing, no work, no electricity, no help from the government or aid organizations. Right now our situation is terrible, so of course I have no hope for the future. I'm not happy with my life here, I'm ready to die because we have nothing."
Traveling in Bamiyan province, I repeatedly heard the same story with slight variations. In the wheat fields outside the village of Samarra, I met a peasant who told us that he and his son had fled to escape the Taliban. "My son and I labored hard pulling big carts full of timber and heavy loads until we could raise enough money to return to Bamiyan." The situation has so disintegrated that many say they wish they could simply return to the refugee camps in Iran.
The bulk of the foreign aid has gone to big cities like Kabul and Mazar, but much has also gone into the coffers of foreign contractors and consultants like the Louis Berger Group, Bearing Point, and DynCorp International in Afghanistan. The rest of the aid money has been poured into "rural development" projects in southern provinces like Kandahar where Canadian and U.S. troops are fighting the Taliban, and into provinces like Helmand where British soldiers, alongside U.S. troops, are struggling against the opium trade