U.S. Official: Responsive Afghan Government Is Goal
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In order to change that perception that the government is Afghan's biggest problem, the State Department has gone to great lengths. Haji Zahir is getting lots of support from civilian and government agencies, enough so that General Stanley McChrystal has called Zahir's team a government in a box. Bay Fang is an adviser to the State Department, and she has been working with Zahir's team.
Ms. BAY FANG (Adviser, Department of State): The district support team itself is actually only four people: It's two British and two American advisers. They cover governance, stabilization and development. And they will be going in with Haji Zahir, as well as a few Afghan staff for the deputy district governor. One of the first tasks that the deputy district governor will have is filling what's called the tashkeel, which is the sort of roster of civil servants that are needed to run a district government.
SIEGEL: But you're describing a rather thin level of, let's say, administrative personnel of the Americans and the Brits, and they would be directing a largely Afghan and Afghan administration of an Afghan city.
Ms. FANG: They wouldn't be directing it, no. It would be the Afghans themselves who are in charge. That's why there's the process for Haji Zahir to travel around the district and to meet with the village elders and eventually convene a larger shura, which will elect these community council members.
SIEGEL: There is, I gather, a former police chief from the area still close to the Karzai government, but widely regarded as having been corrupt and heavy-handed in his day. Can the government in a box control who has influence over the local administration?
Ms. FANG: We're very aware of the dynamics that existed before the Taliban moved in, in which in some ways allowed the Taliban to move in. And we will do everything that we can to make sure that the government that moves in now is responsive to the people and accountable to them.
SIEGEL: A mission to create jobs, provide health care and education. It's a mission that many governments have a hard time achieving throughout the world. And Marjah is hardly in an ideal situation. Are there clear criteria you've set of how many jobs or what kind of education should be established to demonstrate that this is working for people's benefit?
Ms. FANG: Well, the planning process that led to the operation was actually several months long. It involved the Kabul central government working with the provincial government and the people in the district, as well as with the stabilization and governance advisers from the international community. And this was the first time that there really has been buy-in all of these different governmental levels. And we're hoping that that means that the government can go in, not only deliver basic services very quickly, put people to work through cash-for-work programs, which will employ several thousand people within weeks, but that it will be sustainable for the long run.
SIEGEL: The idea here is that people should feel satisfied with a government rather than turn to the Taliban instead. Do you face a double hurdle here, which is first to establish an administration that satisfies the local population and has jobs, for example, and second, one that also overcomes the loss of what income was coming in from opium poppies?
Ms. FANG: Exactly. So, that means not only the immediate hot stabilization efforts which will put people to work and give them employment and cash in their hands right away, but also longer term reconstruction. There is a plan by all these different sectors, by the health sector, the education sector, et cetera that will put in place the services that are necessary in the long run for the government to win the confidence of the people.
SIEGEL: I assume that one of the vital weapons you're bringing into the area is the suitcase full of cash to give people. That's part of what's happening here.
Ms. FANG: There is cash going in, but more importantly, there's also the infrastructure that we have prepared for this government in a box. So, that's, you know, a communication suite, that's office equipment. It's sort of everything that will be needed to set up shop quickly in the district center.
SIEGEL: Bay Fang is an adviser to the U.S. State Department in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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