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    The Growth of Governance in Now Zad, Afghanistan



    Courtesy Story

    Regimental Combat Team 8

    Story by: Lt. Col. Lewis Rhodes
    Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division

    FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM, Helmand province, Afghanistan - On Dec. 7, in the Now Zad district of northern Helmand province, there was an unnoticed but significant step toward transition in Afghanistan. On that day, several local government officials attended a shura, a meeting between Afghans, to discuss security on the key road into the Now Zad district. This was the first gathering of Afghan government officials addressing a regional problem ever held in northern Helmand province.

    This event is particularly notable because it was conceived by the Now Zad District Governor Sayed Murad Saadat, known as DG Murad. Unlike many past situations where a Marine or a civilian advisor would either make the plan or plant the idea, this shura was Afghan initiated, Afghan planned, and Afghan conducted with minimal support from U.S. military forces. Our only assistance was to provide aircraft to transport attendees to the shura.

    Unlike most military training tasks, there is no standardized metric to gauge a district governor’s growing leadership and governance abilities; we need to be patient and recognize shuras such as this as victories.

    The concept of this shura began when DG Murad approached the Now Zad Marine civil affairs team leader and expressed the desire to host a road security shura. He stated that Now Zad could not continue to grow without improved road security, and since the majority of the road is outside of Now Zad he would need to meet with several other entities to discuss security. He asked if the Marine Corps would be able to get all of the relevant International Security Assistance Force personnel to a shura to discuss road security. Once we agreed, he organized and coordinated the bulk of the shura. The initiative and independent action of DG Murad represents a milestone in Afghan governance in northern Helmand.

    Building the capability of the Afghan citizens to be able to provide their own security and governance is the focus of the United States’ efforts as its military presence draws down. Of the two, developing good governance is much more difficult. It is significantly easier to teach someone how to use an AK-47 than it is to teach a governor the nuances of identifying issues and making decisions in the best interest of the population. This is what made this situation so significant; DG Murad, on his own, recognized an issue impacting his district and called and organized a shura to discuss a solution. This proactive leadership is the very type of “good governance” we have been working hard to develop.

    The main topic of this shura was the security situation along the 100 km. of the Gereshk Road running from the City of Gereshk to the Now Zad District Center, the primary route between cities. The district of Now Zad is accessible by only a few basic dirt roads, this being the best quality one of them. This road connects Now Zad with the economic center of the province, Gereshk, and the provincial capitol, Lashkar Gah. All goods shipped in and out of Now Zad come in this way. The growth, stability and development in Now Zad since the Marines cleared the major elements of the insurgency out of the district center nearly two years ago have been a glowing success; over the past year, the Now Zad bazaar has grown from 44 shops to more than 160. However, the future growth of the region will be stymied until the road can be cleared and opened.

    Recognizing this as a regional problem, DG Murad invited the district governors and district chiefs of police from the two other impacted districts, Nar-e-Saranj and Musa Qal’eh. He also requested the attendance of the provincial chief of police and the commanding general of the local Afghan National Army brigade. In total, 45 Afghan and ISAF representatives attended the shura. Unlike the United States where governors of New York and New Jersey, or Virginia and Maryland, often discuss common issues, there is little interaction between Afghan district governments. In many respects, each Afghan district is an island by itself, only interacting with the provincial government. This is what made this shura such an important event – it was outside the norm and represented advanced thinking in good governance.

    It wouldn’t be so hard for DG Murad to focus on governance if that was his only task.

    Improving security and governance seem like simple tasks when all the problems comprising security and governance are rolled up into those two succinct words. However, DG Murad faces a situation similar to the mayor of New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina. The streets of the Now Zad District Center are safe now, but they are still lined, in certain areas, with rubble from shops and homes caught in the middle of thirty years of fighting. A T-72 Russian tank sits rusting outside of a newly refurbished school and DG Murad’s compound, the equivalent of a town hall, is pockmarked by bullet holes.

    When Regimental Combat Team 8 first arrived in Helmand, Now Zad was a much different place. The district center was secure, but roads such as Land-e Nawa, a segment of the Gereshk Road, were still being built and secured. The local tashkiel, or government staff, was still short a huqoq, or judge, and several other key personnel. DG Murad was faced with a myriad of problems including trying to keep the district’s main health clinic open and to get the local citizens to risk insurgent retribution and work with him. Tackling security and governance problems are the first on a to-do list filled with hundreds of issues that all need addressing concurrently.

    Of course, there have been other improvements to governance and security but I chose this one to highlight because I was there. No matter how hard we try we will always judge Afghan progress in governance by American standards. No amount of cultural training can undo our own culture, or our biases. This irrefutable fact is compounded by the constant stream of new western advisers the district governor must work with. We may be set on seven or 12-month deployments to Afghanistan but the Afghans are here to stay. Afghan progress in Afghan governance will happen on Afghan timelines no matter who is here to witness it.

    The insurgency would argue otherwise. They argue that the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is not legitimate due to lack of governance. It would be relatively easy to insert a tyrant who displays all the easily identifiable signs of governance with decrees, punishment and orders they would like. However, this would not be a legitimate form of governance. It takes time to learn how to serve the people properly, as Murad is, vice ordering the people as the insurgency would do.

    DG Murad began the shura with a speech highlighting the problems associated with the closed road between Now Zad and Gereshk. He also noted that Now Zad is lacking resources compared to other districts as supplies have a difficult time reaching the district center, if they are able to be shipped in at all. He emphasized the need to work on a comprehensive plan to reopen this road. The shura continued with each of the key attendees giving a short speech to address the issue of security on the road. They all acknowledged one very important point – despite the presence of several ISAF personnel in the room, every speaker stated that securing this road to provide for long term peace and stability is an Afghan problem that must be solved by Afghans. After all of the speeches, the Afghans gathered around a map on the floor and discussed the road and methods to improve security.

    One of the more noteworthy comments during the shura came from the District Governor of Gereshk Haji Muhammed Salim, also known as “Rhodi.” DG Rhodi, who once told me he has been fighting since he was a young teenager and the fighting cannot continue, asserted peace cannot be established at gun point, “we should all coordinate to bring peace.” He recognized peace will be achieved by government outreach and services, not by fighting. He stated there will be peace when all the Afghan people have full confidence in their government.

    This shura was designed to be a plenary session. There were no real plans made and no solution reached. However, any plans would have been secondary to the real achievement – the actual shura itself. Afghanistan will succeed or fail due to the actions of the citizens. Arguably, responsible governance is the most important aspect for future growth. Last week, in a small shura hall in the Northern reaches of Helmand province, these Afghans took a large first step toward effective governance, in a province known previously for its violence.

    We need to be patient. The Afghans that comprise GIROA at the local level are learning and improving in leaps and bounds we just need to be patient enough to watch.



    Date Taken: 12.27.2011
    Date Posted: 12.27.2011 02:23
    Story ID: 81778

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