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Afghanistan used to be a peaceful country, popular with hippies coming from Europe to South East Asia. But things changed dramatically after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The Soviet intervention left two million dead, a third of the Afghan population fled to Iran and Afghanistan. In the 1980s, half of all refugees in the world were Afghan, The Soviet intervention also gave rise to a jihadist struggle against the godless invaders. Various resistance groups, from moderate mujahideen to more radical groups like the Taliban and Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami, competed for funding from the USA, fighting its proxy war with the Soviet Union, and Saudi Arabia. When the Soviets retreated in 1988, civil war ensued.
The Taliban, supported by Pakistan, seized Kabul in 1996 and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. After this, the country became a major training ground for radical jihadists. Following the September 11 attacks on the USA, the Taliban leadership of the country refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the terrorist strike. In response, a US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan, aiming to dismantle bin Laden's Al Qaeda organisation and destroy terrorist infrastructure. Following the cessation of major hostilities, Afghanistan became the focus of massive rebuilding efforts with billions of dollars pledged from around the world.
In the following years, many Afghans returned to the country with the hope to a better future. A fitful peace returned to the country but the US, under George W. Bush, soon found a new focus in the Middle East, diverting its efforts and money toward a new adventure in Iraq. By 2006, a growing insurgency against the perceived Western occupiers resulted in a new, low-level war in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
Suicide bombs, previously unknown in Afghanistan, found their way to Afghanistan from Iraq, where they had become a depressing daily ritual. The Taliban, now funded by opium revenues, expanded their threats with attacks on foreign and Afghan soldiers, and civilians. With increasing numbers Taliban entering the Afghan military a new, so called 'blue on green' threat of violence developed.
Corruption and poverty remain a scourge in Afghanistan, driving people into the arms of the Taliban and away from the corrupt central government. Taliban ideology is still taught in the thousands of madrases which teach children and teenagers in many parts. Drug addiction among men is high and has led to high unemployment. Widows of the tens of thousands who have died in the war have been reduced to begging. Many families sell their young daughters to old men for a fee. As a result, many child brides self-immolate or commit suicide.
The UN's Mine Information Network estimates that there are 62 people killed or injured every month due to landmines. Afghans fall victim to bombings, road mining and suicide attacks all too frequently. For those who survive, the medical and rehabilitation facilities are poor. Psychiatric hospitals in the country are struggling with the hordes of people mentally scarred by the years of violence. With a poor education system and clan-controlled infrastructure, the help and financial aid from the West is insufficient and often squandered. NATO soldiers are due to leave by 2014 but what will they leave behind.
Hossein Fatemi spent 7 years photographing Afghanistan, where he was intermittently based.
The sun shines through the ruins of an old house, destroyed during the 1990s civil war, where children play a game of football.