A meeting between local Afghans and a high-level one is something to be experienced. At least, the one yesterday was. Two members of the Kandahar Provincial Council came to Maiwand for a visit. The Provincial Council might be thought of as the equivalent of a State Senate, although its function is quite different. One of the members, Mohammad Ehsan, is from Maiwand. He is also the Chairman of the Council, and is related (distantly) to President Hamid Karzai. In other words, he's a local boy made good. And his visit was a Big Deal.
Just how big was a surprise. I had thought that the two members would come out for a quiet talk with our District Governor and the leaders of our local councils. Instead, when we arrived, it was standing room only. Nearly every member of both our shuras had come. Our District Governor opened the meeting with what sounded like a typically flowery and well-delivered welcoming speech. I can't tell you what he said because I was trying to get my earpiece to work. Finally, it fired up in time for me to hear Mohammad Ehsan's speech (short) and then he opened the floor for discussion.
Almost immediately, one man stood up and denounced half the members of the development shura. "They're thieves!" he said, "and all who agree with me should stand up!" A big group right behind him stood up. I thought, ohboy, this is gonna be an interesting meeting. So of course, one of the shura members had to stand up and defend himself and it quickly became a shouting match. The Governor and Ehsan managed to get the meeting back under control, and Ehsan went on to give an impressive off-the-cuff talk stressing that all the members should work together to bring security and development to the district. He is an extremely skillful speaker, and his words would have done justice to any high-level American politician.
But they only worked for so long. Pretty soon, more accusations flew, fingers pointed, voices raised, and the Governor and Ehsan had to calm things down again. And again. It didn't help when the Governor was the butt of accusations, either. At one point, the interpreter on the radio, who was giving a running translation of the discussion, gave up and said ".... aaaaaand another fight breaks out ..." They could have gone on all day, but eventually we had to wrap things up so our guests could catch the helicopter back to Kandahar City. And then everybody filed out like brothers.
Odd as it may sound, I was really happy about this meeting. Our shuras have seen steadily declining attendance over the past several months. This meeting showed that there are some deep divisions that are apparently the cause. But it also showed that there is a lot of energy and passion, and that people are willing to mix it up in the right circumstances. I spoke with the Governor later and he felt the same way. Our challenge, now, is to get those disenchanted people back into the shuras, and even get them shouting at each other again. That's how they'll figure out solutions.