Helmand: It’s all about context
LASHKARGAH (PAN): On arriving in Helmand in March 2011, I remember being asked by a senior colleague what my first impression was.
‘It’s chaos’ I replied. I was quickly corrected – ‘I think you mean complex and challenging’. At the time I didn’t really appreciate the difference. At a glance, it’s easy to believe that we do operate in an element of chaos. Having not worked with the military before, the concept of Regional Commands, Task Forces, Battle groups and Battalions was completely alien and that was before I’d even got to the multinational, multi agency PRT, let alone the Afghans! However, as my 18 months in the PRT comes to an end, I tend to agree with the description I was corrected with. It’s all about understanding the context.
4000 locals turned up to participate in Afghan led District Council elections in Nahr-e Saraj with security provided by ANSF.
With such an international investment in Helmand, it’s important to remember what the PRT is trying to achieve. As another colleague put it, ‘we are trying to get Helmand to development level zero’. Within this context, there has been great success. When I arrived, District Governors did little for themselves. Our role in the Districts is now about pointing the District administration to Afghan systems and resources, coordinated through mechanisms like Sector Working Groups and District and Provincial Development Plans. Afghan delivered, Afghan owned.
The catalyst for this has been Transition. The Transition of Governance and Development is a slightly perverse concept. Unlike Security, we have never ‘owned it’. As a result, it’s difficult to measure. Success is not about tashkiel fills or amount of assistance, it’s about Afghans having confidence and capability in their own systems and having the freedom to travel across the Province to implement them.
Transition has empowered Afghans to take control. It’s also forced us to step back. This can feel uncomfortable but in my experience, providing a little extra space for Afghans to operate results in them finding a way to deliver. It’s not perfect, but it is working. Our Team in Musa Qala stopped funding the Mayor’s office. Although angry at first, the Mayor eventually began to collect taxes in the bazaar, using the money to fund his office and subsequently a waste disposal service. There are so many examples of this over my last 18 months; Afghan led District Council elections in Nahr-e Saraj with security provided by ANSF and 4000 locals turning up to participate: Afghan officials travelling by road to Districts after helicopter support was turned off. I could go on……
So as my 18 months come to end, I hope that people working here and the many commentators remember the context. As we draw down our numbers even more, it will become even more complex and challenging to see the success. But I’m confident it will not be chaos.
The author is a former Helmand PRT Deputy Director of Operations.
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