Once scarred by Taliban, Afghan province makes strides

Habiba Sarabi is the governor of Afghanistan's Bamiyan province, the only female in the country to hold that position.
CBS News

(CBS News) BAMIYAN, Afghanistan - There are 66,000 Americans in Afghanistan as of Friday night. The U.S. invasion after 9/11 came 11 years and three months ago. About 2,174 Americans have given their lives there, and more than 18,000 have been wounded.

The war has cost $560 billion. What has the U.S. purchased with that sacrifice? In one province of Afghanistan there's enormous progress. It's called Bamiyan, once famous for its ancient colossal statues of Buddha, which were dynamited by the Taliban in 2001.

High in the mountains of central Afghanistan, in one of the poorest regions of the country, thousands of girls are learning to speak English.

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Bamiyan province has the highest rate of girls education in the country. Of its 135,000 students, nearly half are girls.

"It's a big achievement for us," said the governor of the province, Habiba Sarabi. She is the country's only female in that position.

"Yes it is very, very unusual and this is the first time in the history of Afghanistan," Sarabi said.

All this in a region still scarred by the Taliban who blew up the city's ancient Buddha statues, and burned its bazaar. They also forced educated, moderate Muslim women out. Sarabi fled to Pakistan in 1996.

Asked why she left, Sarabi answered: "Because my daughter couldn't go to school and I myself I couldn't go to do my career. "

She began working as a women's rights activist in Pakistan, but she returned when the Taliban left. She's built a government with regular town hall meetings where women run for office and serve on the police force.

Bamiyan has mostly been immune from the violence, but that's beginning to change. After years of relative peace, the roads into the province have become so dangerous many people are afraid to use them.

This fall, the Taliban firebombed a schoolroom in the northern part of the province, leaving letters warning the girls to stay home.

"This was a sign and message for the government that they wanted to threaten us, to not go ahead, to stop us from advance work" said Sarabi. Asked if she would continue anyway, Sarabi responded: "Of course, of course."

But she worries that the work she's done here -- for girls, for women, and for peace -- is an easy target, just like the statues that used to watch over this town.