Lights go on again but uncertainty still reigns

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 March, 1996, 12:00am

The people of Kabul, once the world's only capital city without electricity, began the Muslim weekend yesterday with power restored for the first time in more than five years.

The lights were turned on, televisions and satellite dishes were plugged in and other appliances were taken out of storage in the Wazir Akbar Khan suburb which houses diplomats, foreign journalists and high-ranking government officials.

The Government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani had been able to repair a portion of the power transmission system which collapsed during years of fighting.

An official announcement said that many more areas of Kabul would have their electricity restored in the next two weeks.

However, it was not immediately clear how Mr Rabbani could afford to repair the electricity system - at an estimated cost of more than US$60 million (HK$463.5 million) - especially as the regime is almost bankrupt.

Kabul's money trading market also began working for the first time this week since its closure two years ago.

The restoration of electricity to Kabul appeared to be a sign that life was beginning to return to normal and the battered city might get a much-needed chance to restore its economy.

Parts of Kabul and many other major cities in Afghanistan had been turned into rubble during the 17-year war which began with the Soviet invasion of 1979.

Even though the last communist government fell in 1992 and was replaced by a coalition of Islamic Mujahedeen fighters, the war has not ended.

For the past year, the hardline Taleban Islamic fighters, who want to impose a strict Islamic code, have been battling against Mr Rabbani's forces and have laid siege to three of Kabul's four sides.

The Taleban wants Mr Rabbani to step down eso that a new government could either be elected or nominated through consensus between all the factions.

The Taleban's strict rules, especially those restricting the kind of work that can be done by women, have caused concern among some non-government relief organisations working in Afghanistan.

They fear that much-needed reconstruction work might not now go ahead.