Saturday, July 21, 2012

Projects and Progress

We've had a pretty intense week since my last post.  There were a lot of things that we were trying to get wrapped up, or started, or whatever, prior to the beginning of Ramadan.  This is the month-long Muslim religious observance, during which the faithful cannot eat, drink, or smoke from sunup to sundown.  As you can imagine, in a dry climate where the temperature is 105-110 every day, this is going to slow things down a bit.  Ramadan started yesterday.

So, did we get everything done that needed to get done?  Hell, no.  But we made progress.  My teammates are both with USAID and manage projects.  One is still busting his tail to get the local leaders to nominate projects that can be completed under a regional program by late fall.  These are basically projects that will benefit communities that we (ISAF and the Afghan government) are reaching out to.  They include things like roadwork, culverts, and water projects.  You may think, as I did, "we've been doing that for years, so what's the point?"  What's different now is the context.  In earlier years, ISAF dreamed up projects to hire a lot of people, have them do something that's somewhat productive, give them a bit of cash, and give them something else to do besides ambush our soldiers.  Those programs generally met their objectives: where we did projects, there were fewer ambushes.

Now, though, we're trying to connect the people in key areas with the district government, and the district government with the provincial one.  The Afghans have their own ways for these connections to work, but since ISAF has essentially been running the show out here for so long, the Afghan ways are more than a bit rusty.  So we're using our programs to loosen things up.  The villages decide what they need most (a well, a road, a school, whatever), and send their request up to the district development committee, which is a group of elders from around the district.  They consider the request, and if they approve it, send it on to the appropriate ministry in Kandahar.  That's the theory.  In practice, well, as I said, it's a bit rusty.  So we also have our various program managers (some military, some USAID) consider the requests, and carry out the ones that can be done within our guidelines.  This way, the villages see a benefit from working with the district government.

Does it work?  Well, yes, pretty much, but only when done as part of a larger effort that involves security, and only when graft and corruption are kept within Afghan-normal bounds.  The districts to the east, around Kandahar City, have used this approach over the past two years.  Most areas in them are pretty quiet now and the people are concerned with more routine things.  I'm seeing fierce arguments and divisions over charges that so-and-so is incompetent, that another guy doesn't come to work, or a third charges too much for services and is lining his own pocket.  All of which means that the Taliban is not in control of those districts anymore.

Here, though, we have a long way to go.  The Taliban still controls most of this district.  The Afghan government, with ISAF support, controls some.  But we're pushing out further.  Two months ago, I went to a shura in a strategically-located village.  They basically told us to go away, that when we showed up the Taliban did, too, and they just wanted to be left in peace.  ISAF and the Afghan security forces stayed anyway.  This past week, one of the village elders told me that security was good and that now they needed projects.  That's progress.  Slow, but progress.  And we're pushing beyond that village to the next ones already.

1 comment:

Debbie of Boise said...

step by step doing good work, God bless you all.