AFGHAN refugees are pleading with Western troops not to abandon them once more to the resurgent Taliban, while yet cursing the Nato bombs that forced them from homes and killed family and friends.
Survivors of 13 years’ conflict since the Allied invasion are terrified of a return to persecution once US- and UK-led forces complete their long-planned pull-out by the end of this year.
Starving families crammed into refugee camps across the capital Kabul, cramped in wattle-and-daub hideaways, told Metro they fear being left even more vulnerable in the months and years ahead.
Yet there is also bitterness at how the war waged by the West since the 9/11 terror attacks and the Taliban’s sheltering of Osama bin Laden has devastated so many native lives too.
One father-of-six, 67-year-old Dadmola, weighed up the progress made since the Taliban’s overthrow – for example, widened school access for both sons and daughters – with the damaging impact of Nato warplane raids.
He and his family were forced to flee their home in the Gereshk province village of Habib Khan by attacks from above that left 45 neighbours dead, including a brother and a daughter.
Also now living in eastern Kabul’s sprawling Nasaji Bagram refugee camp is 60-year-old grandmother Niaz Bibi (above), left without sight in her right eye following a Nato bombing of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province two years ago.
She lost not only her husband in that clash, but also a daughter, two grandsons and two granddaughters.
A study today published by Islamic Relief outlines how many basic needs remain unmet across Afghanistan, despite best efforts of, say, Britain’s Department for International Development and David Cameron’s optimistic claims.
On average, there are 16,000 Afghans to every one doctor, 101 children for each qualified primary schoolteacher, 1.5million nomads among a 27million-strong population and 36 per cent people living below the poverty line.
And Kabul, like the rest of Afghanistan, remains dangerous: a Lebanese restaurant was blown up, killing 21 in January, a British-Swedish journalist was shot dead there this month and an AFP reporter and his family were killed last week in an upmarket hotel.
Dadmola does appreciate how these spartan IDP camp homes are not subjected to regular midnight searches he came to expect in Gereshk, when villagers would be caught in the crossfire.
He recalled: ‘Taliban troops would rush into the villages targeted by Nato and the Afghan National Army and take shelter in our own homes.
‘That would typically be around about midnight, only they’d manage to leave just in time before the shooting began – and Nato or the ANA would arrive asking us where the Taliban were.
‘Of course, in the end, it would only be us losing our family members in the fighting.’
He insisted he saw ‘no difference between the Taliban and our government – they’re all fighting for power’, but did beg: ‘Every Afghan, every human being, just wants a normal way of living after all this – no more fighting, no more killing.’
Presidential and parliamentary elections next month are shrouded in uncertainty, however.
President Hamid Karzai cannot stand again after serving his two turbulent terms, dogged by corruptuion allegations yet also signing off with a signed agreement with the US and the UK to maintain at least some oversight and peacekeeping presence.
Few seem sure just who might emerge as the country’s new powerbrokers, however, nor indeed whether the polls and their aftermath can escape being tainted by disputes over legitimacy and fresh outbreaks of violence.
Samar Gul (above), professed ‘camp leader’ of a nearby refugee sprawl at Gulbata, declared: ‘In all my 31 years on this earth I’ve seen many regimes and many presidents and none of them brought any positive changes to my life. No one’s even come here canvassing for votes.’
Niaz Bibi simply pleaded: ‘I’d like to ask Nato to stop bombarding us, stop the conflict.
‘At the moment we don’t even have the money to die – why, we can’t afford so much as coffins.’
Scrabbling for much-needed money on Kabul’s frenetic streets can be a dangerous business, especially for the young children pressed into desperate service.
Many youngsters are happy to scavenge for scraps of paper and plastic which they can either sell for meagre amounts or else bring home for their own families to use as kindling.
Others insistently tout packets of cigarettes or jars of pure smoke.
Even babies are put in harm’s way, held precariously by parents sitting in the middle of the highways and holding out arms for hand-outs – even as traffic hurtles past, for some reason invariably Toyota Corollas.
One shrapnel-hoarder, Niaz Bibi’s ten-year-old grandson Rahman, still bears scars across his knees and ribboning his scalp after being hit by a car a year ago while collecting paper.
He admitted to still feeling the pain and can often by heard screaming in the night, whether from his lingering wounds or stinging nightmares.
Another member of the family, Niaz’s 15-year-old daughter Familu, has been fortunate enough to be offered a place on a tailoring course - and must pass on the tips to dozens more at the camp.
Other cash schemes can provide a few more fringe benefits – such as the careful nurturing of pet quails kept in cages.
Camp members feeding them on seven different types of seed can choose to sell the birds either after one month of care, for about 1,500 Afghanis (£16), or hang on for a few more months and potentially pocket up to 4,000 AFN (£43) per quail.
In the meantime, more money can be pocketed by taking bets on quail-fighting bouts – while 28-year-old Ahmad Shah more cheerily added: ‘We also get to enjoy some nice singing while they’re still here.’
Stonemasonry, street-cleaning and laundry services can also raise a little more to buy water or food, especially with aid agencies often offering some provisions one month then not re-emerging for several more.
Epileptic fits frequently hinder the efforts of 18-year-old Afsal to make a living as a shoe-shine boy, to help fund food and medicine for his family – including 20-year-old wife Palwasha, also epileptic, and their three young children.
Palwasha (above), now living at the Gulbata camp after they were forced from flashpoint town Jalilabad, described how it costs 100 AFN (£1.07) per day to treat one or the other of the couple for their epilepsy.
Afsal can only really hope to make between 30 and 50 AFN (32p-54p) per day, however, and that only if he avoids falling over in the street amid his explorations of the city streets.
Palwasha told Metro: ‘Our main priority is to make sure our children can eat each day, so often my husband and I will go hungry – several times each week.’