Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Playgrounds for Peace: Places to Play in Afghanistan Mean More Than Just Slides and Swings

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Playgrounds for Peace: Places to Play in Afghanistan Mean More Than Just Slides and Swings

Article excerpt

(Editor's note: The following account is based on the author's experience while stationed in Afghanistan in 2003.)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, located in the heart of Central Asia, has an area of 251,825 square miles (slightly smaller than the state of Texas) and is completely landlocked. Afghanistan has an estimated population of 28 million people. The capital of Afghanistan, and its largest populated city, is Kabul, located in the east-central part of the country at an altitude of about 5,900 feet.

The current boundaries of Afghanistan were established in the late 19th century in the context of rivalry with Britain and Russia. Within the last 25 years, Afghanistan suffered ruinous effects of an invasion and military presence by the Soviet Union (1979-92), until it was forced to withdraw by anti-Communist mujahideen forces supplied and trained by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and others. Fighting subsequently erupted among the various mujahideen factions, giving rise to a state of war-lordism that spawned the Taliban.

Backed by foreign sponsors, the Taliban developed as a political force and ultimately seized power in 1996. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, joint U.S. and Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban. Today, in addition to occasionally violent political jockeying and ongoing military action to root out remaining terrorists and Taliban elements, the country suffers from enormous poverty, a lack of skilled and educated workers, a crumbling infrastructure and widespread land mines.

It will probably take the remainder of the decade and continuing donor aid and attention to raise Afghanistan's living standards from its status among the lowest in the world. Afghanistan has limited natural freshwater resources, inadequate supplies of potable water, soil degradation, overgrazing, deforestation (much of the remaining forests are being cut down for fuel and building materials), desertification and air and water pollution.

Much of the population continues to suffer from shortages of housing, clean water, electricity, medical care and jobs. The new Afghan government and international donors remain committed to improving access to these necessities by prioritizing infrastructure development, education, housing development, jobs programs and economic reform throughout the next few years. Growing political stability and continued international commitment to Afghan reconstruction creates an optimistic outlook for maintaining improvements to the Afghan economy.

A New Afghanistan Army

Just a month following the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States placed coalition forces in the region, and began military operations against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets throughout Afghanistan. Eventually the Taliban was overthrown, and soon after representatives of various Afghan factions met in Bonn, Germany, with the backing of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan to map out Afghanistan's future. After painstaking negotiations between Afghan military commanders, representatives of Afghanistan's different ethnic groups, expatriate Afghans, and representatives of the exiled monarch, all the parties involved signed the Bonn Agreement on Dec. 5, 2001. Included in the Bonn Agreement was a call for the creation of an Afghanistan National Army (ANA).

The need for a professional, efficient, mobile, loyal, volunteer national army was the seed that began the creation of Coalition Joint Task Force Phoenix. To create an army large enough to support a national government, the U.S. military soon turned to conventional National Guard forces to provide training.

Virtually all the functioning infrastructure Afghanistan had was destroyed by the constant shooting, shelling and neglect that were common under the Taliban regime and during the more than 25 years of constant war. This includes the Afghan courts, parliament, a significant portion of the civil service and most of the educational and health systems. …

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