Afghan leaders are meeting in Bonn, Germany to determine the shape of a future broad-based government in Afghanistan. Agreement is proving difficult to reach, but on the streets of Kabul, the message is clear: The people want peace. And they want their leaders to put aside their differences in order to deliver it.
It is a cold, sunny morning in Kabul, the first day on which snow can be seen on the mountains surrounding the city. It is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, so people are fasting. But they thronged the markets to buy food to eat after sunset in the evening. They are eager to talk about their hopes for the future, and the UN-sponsored conference taking place in Bonn. "We want the United Nations to decide about Afghanistan. We want peace to come in our country," said 18-year-old Tirina, who is studying medicine. Her sister, Lailahmah, is a doctor at Kabul's women's hospital. "Maybe the United Nations can decide how to bring peace, because the Taleban has broken Afghanistan, and I think, [the United Nations can] bring some peace in Afghanistan," she said.
Abdul Hadi is a Kabul high school teacher. He, too, is optimistic that the Afghan leaders meeting near Bonn can reach agreement on the future structure of a broad-based government in Afghanistan. "Our leaders must make a decision and agree," he said. "They must put aside their own individual interests and reach a decision in the national interests. Otherwise, the war, which has been waged here for 23 years will simply continue. There won't be any peace without agreement in Bonn."
This sentiment is echoed over and over again throughout the market. After 23 years, the people of Afghanistan are weary of war, and ache for peace in the hope of some prosperity.
In Kabul, the average wage for those lucky enough to find work is less than $500 a year. Zohra worked as an official in the prime minister's office before losing her job when the Taleban came to power. She has been unemployed ever since, under the Taleban's rules forbidding women to work in most fields. "I hope that our leaders in Bonn reach agreement, especially for the sake of Afghanistan's women, who had no freedom under the Taleban," she said. "They must agree, because if they do not, war will come again to our country. We need peace, because during the war, many of our women became widows. There were rockets and mortars, and we suffered very much."
The hopes of the ordinary people of Kabul are pinned on their leaders in Bonn, and on the United Nations to direct Afghanistan away from conflict. This country is at a cross-roads. And It remains to be seen whether its politicians will be able to put aside their age-old ethnic and military rivalries and give the people the peace and security they desperately crave.