Monday, November 9, 2009
Local governance is re-established, schools rebuilt: Garmsir's success shows the way forward
The news from Afghanistan has been grim. The collapse of the second round of the national elections; Hamid Karzai's government tainted by corruption; and, last week, five British soldiers killed by a rogue Afghan policeman in Nad-e'Ali. All the while, Washington continues to dither over its strategy. Small wonder that the British public have lost faith in this war: 57% now think it unwinnable.
However, on the ground in Afghanistan things look a little more optimistic. I have just spent two weeks in Helmand, talking to dozens of civilian stabilisation advisers and military officers. Predictably, everybody complains about the shortage of helicopters (with good reason). But local governance has been reestablished this past year in the key district centres of Garmsir, Gereshk and Nad-e'Ali. And though the formal justice system has been slow to take root because of the difficulties of putting judges and prosecutors in district centres, in its place an informal justice system has developed supported by international advisers.
In all districts, schools and health clinics are being built or refurbished. And even in the area of counter-narcotics, there are some encouraging signs. Poppy cultivation is down 37% this year in Helmand. A significant increase in poppy cultivation in neighbouring Kandahar suggests that this reduction is not simply due to market forces. In Helmand, a wheat seed distribution programme (which encourages farmers to grow wheat instead of poppy)is covering more farmers. Often the best solutions in Afghanistan are local ones.
Notwithstanding the tragic events in Nad-e'Ali, the Afghan security forces are getting better, as is the partnership between Afghans and the International Security Assistance Force. I saw this most visibly in Garmsir, where I spent some time with the US marines. Garmsir district centre has tarmac roads, solar streetlights and a thriving bazaar. US-run Radio Garmsir pumps out popular programming courtsey of its two local DJs; it also receives over 1,000 letters a month from listeners. Most striking of all, the marines trust Afghan police and soldiers to secure the district centre. Garmsir feels very much like a society that is shaking off the shackles of war.
For the rest of the report click here for the Guardian website