AFGHANS fear aid will dry up when foreign troops are replaced by the country's own forces later this year.
President Hamid Karzai announced on Tuesday that Afghanistan would take responsibility for security in seven areas by the middle of the year, including Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand where British troops are operating.
''The Afghan nation doesn't want the defence of this country to be in the hands of others any more,'' he told hundreds of dignitaries, police and soldiers. ''This is our responsibility to raise our flag with honour and pride.''
Afghan forces are also due to take charge of security in Kabul and Panjshir provinces, Herat city in the west, Mazar-e-Sharif in the north and Mehtar Lam to the east of Kabul as part of the strategy to start bringing NATO troops home.
The choice of Lashkar Gah has raised eyebrows in some quarters, with civilians in the city questioning whether their security forces are ready to take on the Taliban alone.
In Bamian, one of Afghanistan's poorest but more peaceful provinces, there were fears that the departure of foreign troops would also bring an end to aid from overseas.
''Are you sure they are leaving? That's not good. They help people, they make roads, clinics,'' said Mohammad Nazuk Mir Chakaree, a 20-year-old graduate in Bamian, where a contingent from the New Zealand armed forces is based.
Bamian is desperately poor and many people live in caves. Leprosy is not unusual.
The billions of dollars Afghanistan receives in international aid has mainly bypassed Bamian and gone to provinces where the insurgency is stronger. Its people fear the departure of foreign troops will mean even less assistance.
''The worry for all these years has been that the aid goes to the south [even though] places like Dai Kundi and Bamian are poorer,'' said activist Wajma Frogh. ''When the foreigners withdraw [we worry that] we'll get even less support for development. I have met people who have said, 'Maybe they want us to take up arms,' so they get more development money.''
While Afghan forces have grown to an estimated 159,000 troops and 118,000 police, independent analysts such as the International Crisis Group question whether they are strong enough to maintain peace.
In a November report, the group said the Afghan military and police ''remain dangerously fragmented and highly politicised''.