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Securing governance

Panjwayi District Center | Day 13 – This morning I got up bright and early, jumped in an armored vehicle, and headed down the street with my new Canadian friends to explore the world of Afghan governance.

We entered the district center and it was the biggest one I have ever seen. I’m used to the district centers housing a few buildings behind some barbed wire. This one was huge! It was more of a secure compound with majestic mountains erupting from the earth behind it. The terrain in this country constantly astounds me.

I was hoping to learn about all the good within the government and a foundation for hope for the Afghan people. Unfortunately, I entered a world that needs a lot of

work. The first lesson I learned was that governance is founded on good security. Without security, governance is extremely difficult.

For example, line ministries, such as education and health, are nonexistent in this district, progress is slowly being made but the hard part is getting the right people into the right positions. Illiteracy is rampant, so finding people who can fill staff and leadership positions is extremely hard. People need to be found first, and then trained how to do the job correctly. This takes a lot of time.

So for now, there are two Canadian corporals handling a lot of the administration behind conflict resolution and then taking those to the district leader to have them signed. The Canadians have to fill in these types of positions while they try and find and train good people to replace them. There’s an entire Canadian support structure that lives down here to help with governance, partnerships, development and security.

While I was there I asked about corruption, because although I hear about it a lot, I only have a basic idea of what it really is. Two civilian staff members talked to me about it and I now understand how badly it’s hurting the Afghan people. They explained a few examples they have seen. There was an official that was allowed to hire 300 Afghans to do a job. He hired 200. On payday, he had 100 of them go through the line twice to receive salary and then took the additional paychecks for himself. To solve this specific problem, some workers are given electronic accounts and paid directly and others are paid directly by coalition forces.

On the other hand, they also talked about how some village elders might sip 10 percent of the top off a school construction project fund, to stash away in a village slush fund. They use the money to help their people if they hit hard times. Would you consider this corruption or bending the rules, since there are no real government support entities here to support them?

Throughout my corruption conversations, I kept remembering a five-second sentence U.S. Army Colonel John Agoglia, the director of the Counter Insurgency School, told me. He said Gen. Stanely McChrystal was about to issue Anti-Corruption guidance which should help the situation.

I also had an opportunity to watch the District Development Agencies first Shura in three years. They said during the meeting they stopped holding the Shura’s because the Taliban killed seven of their members. They said they hoped to help out their communities in the same way they have in the past. They said they built 19 schools, 5 hospitals and cleaned out a lot of culverts and completed other community projects. I saw the will and desire of the Afghan people in that Shura and I really hope the security situation improves so governance and groups like this can grow and prosper. 

Before I left, I took a moment to talk with a 37-year-old Afghan man who was visiting the district center to resolve a conflict. I only had about three minutes to chat with him before I was told to armor up and get ready to go.

In that short amount of time, he told me that he has lived through the Soviet occupation, the civil war and now the current conflict. He said he hasn’t had a single happy day in his entire life. He told me how horrible it is to be caught between the Taliban and the Afghan Government and it’s hard to raise children amongst the fighting.

I finally asked him how peace could be brought to his people and he then made eye contact with me for the first time and he told me it was of such a huge problem, he had no idea, but he prayed for peace every day.

While sitting there listening to him, I finally understood there is more than one “front line” in counter insurgency. The invisible front line the Afghan National Army crosses everyday with its coalition partners, and then the invisible governance front line where corruption, education and development challenges are battled. Both are equally important, because as one of the staffers told me today, the Afghans do as the Taliban say, because they are more scared of the Taliban than they are of us.

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