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Lifting the Veil

Aired April 23, 2009 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again and welcome to a "360 Special Presentation."

Right now America's vital ally in the war against al Qaeda is on the brink, nuclear-armed Pakistan, where tonight Taliban fighters have pushed within striking distance of the capital, Islamabad.

They're bringing their harsh brand of Islamic justice, beheadings, beatings, brutality against anyone who dares defy them especially against women, some who simply want to show their faces in public.

We know what's in store for Pakistan because that is precisely what happened and continues to happen in parts of Afghanistan.

So here now is Afghanistan in 2007, LIFTING THE VEIL, Afghan women speaking out. First though a warning: Some of what you're about to see is very rough stuff.


SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY, JOURNALIST, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER (voice- over): Afghanistan, 2001, the true horror of Taliban rule revealed in the shocking CNN documentary "BENEATH THE VEIL." Massacres in the countryside, streets filled with beggars, starving children, women forced to wear burqas, denied work or education, even paraded in front of a jeering crowd and executed in public.

Then 9/11, U.S. and coalition forces invaded, pulling the Taliban from power for harboring al Qaeda. The country and its women were liberated, or so we thought. Now we've come back six years later to ask, if life for women in Afghanistan is really any better.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American flag flies again over our Embassy in Kabul. The mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes. Today women are free.

OBAID-CHINOY: After the U.S. invasion, President Bush sounded so confident. But as a Muslim journalist, I want to find out if life has changed for women in this newly Democratic state. Are girls back in school? Are women working? Do they have freedom to live and to dress as they please?

I'm Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, and I'm traveling right across the country to find out. In early 2001, we found a country under Taliban rule decimated by war, poverty and violence. The streets were full of women like this one, unable to work, forced to beg for change with only animal feed to serve her children.

Today despite the invasion and promises of aid, things don't look much better. Most of the beggars I see in Kabul are women. There are more than one million widows in Afghanistan, the legacy of 20 years of conflict and poverty.

Years of isolation by the Taliban have left many women unskilled and unable to work. Widows without male relatives to help them are often forced to beg. I noticed one particular woman by the side of the road. She's clearly in distress and crying into her blue burqa.

(on camera): What is your name?


OBAID-CHINOY: How many hours a day do you sit outside begging?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I sit here every day, from morning until evening.

OBAID-CHINOY: It turns out that Bebe Kul is also a war widow.

It must be extremely difficult for her to be sitting out here. She's surrounded by men all the time. And she says men hurl abuses at her when they walk past her, and this is extremely degrading for her to do.

Already I can see what she means because the men around her are laughing at her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These men are bastards. You bastards, may your fathers be cursed.

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): Because Bebe Kul feels uneasy talking here, she invites us back to her home; a slum dwelling on the very edge of Kabul.

(on camera): I'm immediately struck by how poor this place is. There are children running around barefoot, piles of garbage, and the building seems to have been hit heavy by years of shelling.

How long have you been living here?


OBAID-CHINOY: Can I see your face? What you look like? She is Bebe Kul is 40. She tells us she was widowed by an American bomb in 2001 and now lives in a single room with her two daughters, 14-year- old Beba and 16-year-old Sima.

BEBE KUL (translated): I was at home, by my husband wasn't there. It was at 3 o'clock in the afternoon when the American bomb was dropped.

My son and husband died. The both died on the same day. After my husband and son died, life became worse for me. I was young before my husband died.

OBAID-CHINOY: I ask if her girls are getting an education.

BEBA (translated): We would like to study, but we don't have the money to buy notebooks, pens or pencils.

OBAID-CHINOY: These girls have had a very difficult upbringing. They have hopes and dreams. They want to go to school. They want to be able to work when they grow up. But they don't have any money and barely enough to make ends meet and have no money to buy notebooks. And it's very difficult for them to see their mother go out and beg.

They say that nothing has changed for them. They hoped that the government would help them, but their life seems to have been exactly the way it was before.

To understand how harsh the streets of Kabul are for women, my translator and I follow Bebe Kul as she goes begging that afternoon. I keep my microphone turned on.

Oh, it feels really strange to be under this. Actually, I'm tripping all over myself because it's very difficult to walk in this.

(voice-over): In today's Afghanistan wearing the burqa is no longer required by law. Most are forced beneath the veil by men and their families or communities.

For the Afghan woman, there is little difference.

I can't imagine having to do this every day in and day out for years and years and years. And to have no hope for what the future would hold.

This group of young boys were just sitting in front of us, making fun of us that we are begging. They asked if we really needed the money and then very deliberately gave it to us.

The men here look at us with disdain. I feel angry and invisible under the burqa.

For the West, this veil has been a symbol of women's oppression here.

(on camera): But, you know, let's face it. The issue of the burqa is just the tip of the iceberg. Afghan women face far graver issues than whether to wear the burqa or not.

I leave Bebe Kul where I found her, a lone blue figure crouching in the mud; her future and the future of thousands like her uncertain.

OBAID-CHINOY: When we return, desperation leads to the unimaginable. (END VIDEOTAPE)


OBAID-CHINOY (on camera): I'm going to catch a bus from Kabul right across the country to the western end of Afghanistan. I'm trying to see if life here has gotten any better since the invasion. There are some signs of progress; new roads and power, six times the number of students in schools, even a feeling of peace in some places, like Iraq.

Here, there's a sense of normalcy. You know, people are walking around, going about their daily business. Women are out in the markets. It is very easy, I think, to forget that this country is still at war.

(voice-over): But under the surface, some shocking stories start to emerge. In 2001, women's behavior was strictly controlled in public by the Taliban; within the family, by men. Today we find there are still problems.

More and more women are burning themselves to death to escape the horrors of Afghan family life.

The doctor Mormadi says there have been double the number of cases in the last two years. I ask him how the women burn themselves.

DR. MORMADI (translated): Afghanistan is a poor country, so kerosene is widely available. The women take it and burn themselves. Most of the women who burn themselves intend to die.

OBAID-CHINOY: He tells me that few seek or find the help they need.

MORMADI: Some women do tell the police and the criminal investigators what happened. But then, there are women who are afraid to say anything. I had two women who were near death and just before they died, they told me what happened and why they did it.

OBAID-CHINOY (on camera): Even when women do report their problems, there is little evidence that the police follow up. I'm going to sit down so I can have a conversation with her.

What kind of a married life did you have?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband is a good man. He was not the problem, I was happy with him.

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): This woman tells me about her life at home. She finds it painful to talk and can only say a few words at a time. But I slowly piece her story together. She says her brother- in-law beat her after a series of family quarrels.

As a protest, she poured kerosene over herself and set it alight. Much of her body has third-degree burns. She is six months pregnant. This woman is just 20 years old. She has burned herself so badly out of despair the doctors do not expect her to live. I asked what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mother-in-law would hit me because she didn't like me. She would curse at me, hit me and verbally abuse me when my husband wasn't home. For several nights she kicked me out of the house.

OBAID-CHINOY (on camera): Why did you decide to burn yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had no other choice. No matter how much I would protest I couldn't stop the beating. "Why are you beating me? I didn't do anything." She was a bad woman. NO one would help me, no one could say anything.

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): What strikes me is the sense of powerlessness in Afghan women's lives. They live hidden away, often under unbearable conditions.

I think these women wanted to make a point. They didn't want to die quietly but in a way that let others know they suffered in life; a reflection of deep-seated issues in Afghan society that need to be addressed.

OBAID-CHINOY (on camera): Next

How old were you when your father sold you?


OBAID-CHINOY: Young girls sold into marriage.



ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Erica Hill. INSIDE THE VEIL continues in a moment.

But first, this "360 Bulletin."

At least 80 people killed in two suicide bombings in Iraq making this the deadliest day of the year. One attack targeting people who were getting food in central Baghdad, the other happened at a restaurant northeast of the capital.

A newly released Central Intelligence report shows in 2002 then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice endorsed water-boarding as an interrogation technique. The Secretary of State, Colin Powell, wasn't told it was being used on terror suspects until a year later.

GM workers are getting extended summer vacations they don't want. The automaker will temporarily close 13 of its 20 North American plants over the next few months to cut inventory due to sagging sales. And Michelle Obama, celebrating "Take Your Child to Work Day" at the White House today with more than 100 children. During a Q&A session, she was asked about the first dog.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the dog. Oh, he is a crazy dog. You know, he loves to chew on people's feet. I'll tell you a story about Bo last night.

It was, like, 10:00 at night. Everybody was asleep. And we hear all this barking and jumping around. And the president and I came out. We thought somebody was out there. And it was just Bo. He was playing with his ball. And it was like there was another person in the house. He's kind of crazy. But he's still a puppy, so he likes to play a lot.


HILL: Those are your headlines. I'm Erica Hill.

INSIDE THE VEIL continues after this.



OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): Six years after the Taliban were removed from power; I'm in Afghanistan investigating whether the lives of women have improved.

When we came here in 2001, we found a society oppressive to women, where they lacked freedom, opportunity or education. Today, Afghanistan is freed from the control of the Taliban and trying to move towards a brighter future.

But still, very young girls are being sold into marriage. I'm on my way to meet a child bride who lives with her family at the edge of Herat where the desert begins.

(on camera): What is your name?

SHAHNAZ, CHILD BRIDE (translated): Shahnaz.

OBAID-CHINOY: Shahnaz, how old are you?


OBAID-CHINOY: Shahnaz, tell me about your father.

SHAHNAZ: (translated) My father? My father was a drug addict. He had many gambling debts. And so he sold me.

OBAID-CHINOY: How old were you when your father sold you?

SHAHNAZ (translated): I was seven. OBAID-CHINOY: How did you feel when your father told you that you had been sold?

SHAHNAZ (translated): I felt depressed when I found out.

OBAID-CHINOY: It's difficult for us to speak to Shahnaz because her mother-in-law and her husband keep coming into the room. And although I have permission to speak to Shahnaz, her husband seems nervous because as it turns out, she had burned herself to protest their marriage.

Tell me why you decided to burn yourself.

SHAHNAZ (translated): Because of the people saying, "Look at all her father did, look at how her mother married, look at how they married you off." Because of this kind of talk, I thought I should just burn myself so I could just die and not hear this anymore.

OBAID-CHINOY: How old were you when you decided to burn yourself?

SHAHNAZ (translated): When I was 11 years old.

I still have fresh scars and I have had two operations.

OBAID-CHINOY: Would you like to go to school?

SHAHNAZ (translated): Yes, yes.

OBAID-CHINOY: What would you have liked to have done had you not been sold into marriage?

SHAHNAZ (translated): I was too young to wonder about what I would do with my future.

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): Shahnaz's story is a familiar one across Afghanistan. Though the legal age of marriage is now 16, it is still common and customary to sell girls into marriage as their families struggle with the devastation caused by two decades of conflict.

Often these child brides are little more than servants at home and virtual prisoners in marriage. Divorce is nearly impossible for a woman here and would make her a total outcast.

And it's not just poor women who are struggling in Afghanistan. Women who are educated and outspoken run the risk of great harm as well.

(on camera): A young poet from this city recently published her first book in spite of the fact that her family thought it brought shame upon them. She wrote, "I am caged in this corner, full of melancholy and sorrow. My wings are closed, and I cannot fly. I must wail because I'm an Afghan woman."

(voice-over): Her name was Nadia Anjuman. Nadia was a local heroine. She defied the ban placed on women's education by the Taliban and secretly studied literature with a group of friends.

Nadia's poetry had brought her celebrity, and her death shocked the liberal city of Herat. Thousands of people attended her funeral. She left behind a 6-month-old son.

(on camera): I have managed to locate Nadia Anjuman, the poet's family, and I'm going to try and see if I can sit down and speak to her mother about what really happened to her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): My innocent daughter.

OBAID-CHINOY: How old was she in this photograph?


OBAID-CHINOY: Nadia's mother is still very upset and would not talk long. But she did tell me something quite shocking. Nadia was murdered.

Nadia's brother Shappy tells us more. Who do you blame for Nadia's death?

SHAPPY ANJUMAN, NADIA ANJUMAN'S BROTHER: Of course her husband. The husband.

OBAID-CHINOY: He wanted to control her?

ANJUMAN: Yes, of course. Nadia was a successful woman, a popular woman, a good poet, and he was feeling jealous.

OBAID-CHINOY: You think her husband couldn't handle her success as a poet, and he was jealous?

ANJUMAN: Yes, of course. He talked to Nadia several times, "Why you are popular and I am not? Why people know you and they don't know me? I am the husband. I am a man."

OBAID-CHINOY: Although Nadia's husband was arrested and charged for the murder of his wife, the case did not go to trial. Under local law, the victim's family can pardon the accused.

ANJUMAN: Because of our culture, and our religion, we forgave. But we did not want him to be released two months after being forgiveness. It was clear. We consulted with the lawyers, with the prosecutors. We asked them, if we forgive him, what will be happen? They said, at least he will be in prison for five years. And we thought, five years is enough. That's good.

OBAID-CHINOY: I've managed to locate Nadia, the poet's, husband. His name is Fareed. He works at the Central Herat University Library. I believe he's never given an interview.

I'm going in to try and convince him to speak to us to tell us his side of the story.

FAREED (translated): I'm happy to do the interview, but I'm also not happy because it is not a good subject.

OBAID-CHINOY: Initially, Fareed doesn't seem keen to talk to us. My translator also seems nervous. A U.S. State Department report says that he admitted beating Nadia but claims to have stopped before she died.

What was the fight about? Did you not beat her that night?

FAREED: No, no, not at all.

OBAID-CHINOY: Fareed claims that Nadia died after taking poison.

So she did have a bruise on her face which you cannot explain how it got there. Why would a successful young poet commit suicide? You claim she was happily married. Why would she commit suicide?

FAREED: Look, I told you Nadia did not want to kill herself. My dear, how can I make you understand? She was trying to put pressure on people to love her more. It's just something women here do.

OBAID-CHINOY: Fareed denied everything to us. He spent less than five months in prison.

Coming up -- this seems like the new Afghanistan. Young girls are laughing and joking and playing without their burqas on. At least within the four walls of this school, there seems to be a new hope.


OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): In 2001, a secret women's political group Kalrava (ph) captured the shocking video of a woman executed in front of a jeering crowd. Later that year, coalition forces ousted the Taliban, and shattered al Qaeda. They promised Afghan women a better life.

More than six years later, I am meeting with a member of Rava (ph) in secret to find out if those promises have been fulfilled.

Why does the current administration oppose Rava and the fact that women should be allowed to voice their opinions, that women should be active on the political front?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): Well, because the current government is full of the fundamentalists who cannot tolerate women as even part of the society.

OBAID-CHINOY: But Afghanistan's constitution says now that men and women are equal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, the constitution is nothing to these fundamentalists. The chief justice of this country who was just three months ago was a tolerant (ph) kind of man -- clearly said that this constitution, it has no value for us.

OBAID-CHINOY: So what you're saying is that Afghanistan may have a constitution but no one is following it? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): Most Afghans live outside of the city. I wonder how life is now in the villages and if the aid and relief promised by the international community is reaching them.

(on camera): I've left Herat and I'm traveling towards the northeast of Afghanistan to the small town of Talakan (ph).

(voice-over): Talakan is a small quiet town now, a far cry from 2001 when it was at the center of some of the fiercest fighting between the allies and the Taliban. It's a place that's desperately trying to rebuild itself.

One of the first things I hear when I arrive is the sound that was silenced under the Taliban; the playful noise of girls running around, having fun in a school playground.

(on camera): There's a real sense of freedom within the four walls of this school.

You know, young girls are laughing and joking, gossiping, running around and playing without their burqas on. This seems like the new Afghanistan, you know, the kind of -- at least within the four walls of this school, there seems to be a new hope.

(voice-over): I talked to the headmistress who held secret classes for girls at great risk when the Taliban were in power.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): I wanted to look after the girl's future. I knew the Taliban were not going to stay in power forever. Death would have been preferable to not studying at all. And many of the students that I taught are not in grades 10, 11 and 12.

Second floor. My problem, you can see.



OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): This school is a perfect example of Afghanistan's progress and pain over the last six years. There are 4,000 girls now able to study here, but there isn't enough space to teach them. And I'm told that getting aid money to build more classrooms has proven nearly impossible. And the girls are still battling resistance at home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT (translated): My father does not encourage me to study. In fact, I have a book in my hand, my father says, "What is this that you are studying?" Then he does not let us study. I never study at home. I go to my grandmother's house or somewhere else. I never study around my father.

OBAID-CHINOY: Only two of five Afghan girls attend school and seeking an education remains dangerous. The humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch reports a sharp increase in attacks against students, teachers and schools across Afghanistan in the last two years, particularly if they teach girls.

The tyranny of extremists has oppressed women here, but I learned it's not just religious fanatics who think this way. Even the most educated Afghan males are deeply conservative, like this group of young teachers I meet in the park.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because they are my friend I never accept that they all should see my wife.

OBAID-CHINOY (on camera): Oh. They're your friends but you would never allow them to see your wife?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One hundred percent.

OBAID-CHINOY: One hundred percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even a picture.

OBAID-CHINOY: Even a picture you won't want them to see?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even her own picture.

OBAID-CHINOY: So you want to keep her locked away.


OBAID-CHINOY: Under lock and key?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lock and key, password.

OBAID-CHINOY: Password. Lock, key and password?


OBAID-CHINOY: There must be something in the water here because the testosterone levels here are very high. They think that if they saw a woman walking down the street wearing what I'm wearing which by no means is tight would be tempting for them. They'd follow the woman, they'd say something to her. So to avoid that, women should just wear burqas.

(voice-over): As a Muslim woman I know attitudes like these are not inherent in our culture; that there are places around the world where we can walk around freely. I find it oppressive here.

Six years ago, we met these four little girls in CNN's "BENEATH THE VEIL." Up next, we learn their fate.



HILL: I'm Erica Hill. Our special report, LIFTING THE VEIL, continues after this "360 Bulletin." President Obama turning up the heat today on credit card companies. At a White House meeting with executives who run some of the biggest card issuers, Mr. Obama promised new protections for consumers.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is going to be action in Congress. Our administration is going to be pushing for reform in this area. We think it's important that we get input from the credit card issuers as we shape this reform, but there -- and I'm going to leave it up to my economic team to work with Congress to evaluate all the various proposals and to get some very definitive language in place.


Tough talk just a day after a credit card reform bill advanced in the house; there is a similar bill working its way through the senate.

A foul-up, not foul-play apparently to blame for the deaths of 21 polo horses mourned today in Florida at a memorial ceremony. A veterinary pharmacy has admitted it incorrectly mixed the medication given to those animals before a match on Sunday.

Tonight, show host Jay Leno remains hospitalized in Los Angeles after checking himself in earlier today. It is not clear what the problem is. Leno turns 59 next week.

In South Carolina, a state of emergency near Myrtle Beach where wildfires have turned popular tourist spots into zones of terror. At least 15,000 acres destroyed including a dozen homes -- dozens of homes, rather.

I'm Erica Hill. That is the latest news at this hour. LIFTING THE VEIL continues in just a moment.



OBAID-CHINOY: Since the overthrow of the Taliban, there has been some improvement in the lives of Afghan women. Now, I'm off to see if the health care has gotten any better.

Early in 2001 we used a hidden camera to film this footage of a maternity hospital. Dark, filthy, few doctors, little medicine. Today, some of the hospitals look better. But I'm shocked to learn that the health of mothers and the newborn children remains dismal.

These doctors are in charge of the maternity ward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): It's mostly mother-in-laws and husbands involved in making family decisions. And if they do not permit the mother to come to hospital, then she cannot come. OBAID-CHINOY (on camera): Doctor Nila (ph), what kind of condition are the women in when they arrive for their delivery in the hospital?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): Normally they arrive with major complications. Sometimes they have a ruptured uterus. If they are lucky they have a car. If not, they are tied to a ladder and carried here.

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): I asked the doctors if the men realize that their wives are in grave danger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): Some know, but most don't have a clue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): When the men bring the women in, the doctor tells them that if they had brought them in earlier, there would not have been a problem.

OBAID-CHINOY: It amazes me that a woman doesn't even have control over her own body. Since the invasion six years ago, there's been little improvement. UNICEF reports that 50 pregnant women die each day. And that one in four children will die before their fifth birthday.

I am traveling to the village of Mumayi (ph) in the far north of the country. The journey is extremely perilous. Others have been murdered on this road. Afghanistan today is more dangerous than it's been since the invasion.

In 2001, the Taliban were fighting in the area. We came here then to see what life was like on the front lines. And what we found was shocking.

Stories of kidnapping, execution, and in Mumayi, the haunting sorrow of these four little girls.

The Taliban had taken their father prisoner, shot their mother, and stayed with them in the house, alone, for two days.

Now, six years later, I want to find out what happened to them.

We find their village is still very poor. This is the same house where the four little girls watched the Taliban murder their mother. I find their father, Mohammed Amin (ph), nearby. He's a land owner and a village elder.

Two of his daughters still live with him. Ruksana (ph) was just a toddler when the Taliban came, she's eight now, and goes to school. An opportunity her sisters did not have.

Mumayi's brand new secondary school was built with Western aid. Mohammed says Ruksana is doing very well.

MOHAMMED AMIN, VILLAGE ELDER (translated): She's a very good student. She's not top of the class, but I'd say she was second. I always encourage her and try to help her. She likes going to school.

OBAID-CHINOY: I ask about her future.

AMIN (translated): I am hoping she will finish her education. There is no rush to get her married. If she can study to be a doctor or engineer, I will let her carry on.

OBAID-CHINOY: And he tells me about life in the village.

AMIN (translated): They are trying to build a clinic now but there is no proper doctor. Also we have no piped water. All of our water comes from the river. We lack all kinds of basic things.

OBAID-CHINOY: Mohammed's older daughters have married and moved away from Mumayi. I wonder if they're happy. Then, something Mohammed says makes me think the next generation may have a better chance than they did.

AMIN (translated): I really want my granddaughters to go to school.

OBAID-CHINOY: Mohammed's daughters grew up in a bleak, violent time. Now there's at least a chance that their little sister and their own children will have a peaceful life and a brighter future.

Next, hope for Afghanistan's next generation.

(on camera): Nusotiya (ph) wants to get an education, she wants to go to school and college before she says she can even think of getting married.



OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): I'm heading way up into Afghanistan's northern mountains, into one of the most remote parts of the country. This was territory held by the Taliban. Small villages ruled by repressive clerics.

(on camera): I'm going to the village of Takitanuz (ph). This area was heavily mined by the Mujahideen in the 1990s. When the Taliban came to power they had a base right above this village. It is a very remote area and outsiders hardly ever venture here.

(voice-over): First, some good news. There's a school here for the children.

(on camera): It's heartening to see that in this tiny village young boys and girls are studying together. Their lesson today is about Afghanistan, how wonderful their country is, how plentiful the fruits and vegetables are and how they should respect their country.

A few of the students in this class are deaf so the teacher is using sign language to teach them.

What do you think about marriage?

Nusotiya (ph) wants to get an education, she wants to go to school and college before she says she can even think of getting married.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you married?

OBAID-CHINOY: Am I married? Yes. I'm married.


OBAID-CHINOY: No, my husband didn't come with me.

(voice-over): Nostrat (ph) wants to show me her home. As the little girls pull me along, I'm expecting their parents to come out and stop us filming. But then a surprise; there are no parents.

(on camera): These young girls were left orphaned, both their parents died because they didn't have access to good health care and they had life-threatening diseases. And after speaking to them, it's heartening to know that, despite them not having parents, they are very eager to study, to be educated, and they all have hopes and dreams of becoming teachers and of working in the village when they grow up.

(voice-over): The head of the village is also the local cleric.

(on camera): Kari Sab (ph), can you tell me what the poverty is like in your village?

KARI SAB, VILLAGE HEAD (translated): It's like this, 40 percent of the people in the village have just enough to eat. But the other 60 percent are even poorer and do not have enough.

OBAID-CHINOY: What hopes do you have for your village in the future?

SAB (translated): You can see with your own eyes that the situation in this village is worse than ever. The villagers hope that reconstruction will come and that it will bring economic benefits. At the moment there is no health center here. But we have a lot of hope.

OBAID-CHINOY (voice-over): People here are resilient. They have been through a lot, but they want to move forward if they're given the chance.

I've traveled across this vast country and I have found joy and hope in places I least expected it. But I've also learned that progress is slow, Afghanistan's problems were not fixed by the invasion.

The country still struggles, after decades of war and loss. The culture remains oppressive to many and billions of dollars of promised aid have failed to arrive or to reach those most in need.

Hanging in the balance -- the future of Afghanistan and the lives of its people; people desperate for peace and for hope.