In this Peshawar market place in Pakistan, the majority of traders are Afghan refugees. There are 1.7 million displaced Afghans on Pakistani soil. Nearly half of them would be entitled to vote in a poll for Afghan president according to the United Nations refugee agency. But there is little appetite for Western democracy here.
Market vendor Sher Ali said: “The election is not going to have the outcome we want, which is peace. That is why we have no interest. We want peace to return. Those who stand for election do not have a past that stands for peace.” There are not many takers for the right of return given the fragility of the Afghan security apparatus, so three million remain abroad. Since 2001, five million people have gone back but they have returned to a violent environment. The UN says a third of the country remains classified as “high or extremely high risk”. In Helmand province, education is dependent on security. International Security and Assistance Force troops patrol the school grounds to deter Taliban attacks. But there has been some progress. As many as 10,000 healthcare workers have been trained since 2001. The infant mortality rate has declined by 25 per cent and four million children have gone back to school. But the fact remains that the life expectancy of an Afghan adult is 44 years and the mortality rate for children under five is one in five and only 35 per cent of school pupils are female. There would be no education for these girls under a Taliban regime, no matter how high their aspirations. “We would like to learn at school to be doctors,” said 10-year-old Foziya “Then we could teach others to be doctors too.”