Afghanistan — Helmand Province Sees Governance, Economic Improvements

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2010 — Britain’s senior rep­re­sen­ta­tive in south­ern Afghanistan said today that she sees “sig­nif­i­cant progress” in local gov­ern­ments, jus­tice insti­tu­tions and eco­nom­ic indi­ca­tors in the for­mer Tal­iban strong­hold of Hel­mand province.

Lindy Cameron, head of mis­sion for the British-led Hel­mand provin­cial recon­struc­tion team, a multi­na­tion­al civil­ian-mil­i­tary col­lab­o­ra­tion, briefed Pen­ta­gon reporters dur­ing a video news con­fer­ence from her offices in Lashkar Gah.

I’m qui­et­ly opti­mistic that what we’re see­ing is a shift in per­cep­tion,” she said, “both about the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion but also about the capa­bil­i­ty of their gov­ern­ment here in cen­tral Hel­mand and fun­da­men­tal­ly also their abil­i­ty to take over in the long run.”

Cameron has a team of about 100 mil­i­tary and civil­ian staff mem­bers, part of a broad­er 300-per­son team that includes British mil­i­tary sta­bi­liza­tion sup­port teams and U.S. civ­il affairs teams that sup­port Hel­mand provin­cial Gov. Moham­mad Golab Man­gal.

Recon­struc­tion team staff is sup­plied by the gov­ern­ments of the Unit­ed King­dom, the Unit­ed States, Den­mark and Esto­nia.

I have civ­il and mil­i­tary capac­i­ty; I have spe­cial­ist engi­neers; [and] I have a whole range of spe­cial­ist skills in edu­ca­tion, health, recon­struc­tion and the rule of law, polic­ing,” Cameron said. “Hav­ing a real­ly large and capa­ble provin­cial recon­struc­tion team here … [gives] me the abil­i­ty to sup­port the gov­ern­ment across the full range of what it does, but also allows me to help push out sup­port to build capac­i­ty in the dis­tricts as well.”

Since her first vis­it to Lashkar Gah in June 2006, Cameron said, the once-iso­lat­ed provin­cial cap­i­tal has seen the open­ing of the first civil­ian air­port, built by the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment and the U.K. Depart­ment for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment, as well as a gov­ern­ment that’s much more in con­trol of the province and a gov­er­nor who’s been in charge for two and a half years.

It’s still a pret­ty chal­leng­ing area to work in, both for the gov­ern­ment as well as the secu­ri­ty forces,” she said. “But I think it is one where we’ve seen a lot of improve­ment and, very impor­tant­ly, where the peo­ple of Hel­mand feel as if they live in an area which is much more under the con­trol of the gov­ern­ment and its secu­ri­ty forces and where life is begin­ning to look rather bet­ter for them.”

The local bazaar is bustling, she added, mean­ing that peo­ple are begin­ning to more con­sis­tent­ly increase their incomes. “They’re able to be less depen­dent on pop­py farm­ing and have a larg­er num­ber of alter­na­tive liveli­hoods,” Cameron said.

Hel­mand used to be the agri­cul­tur­al bread bas­ket of Afghanistan, accord­ing to the recon­struc­tion team’s web­site, but opi­um pro­duc­tion expand­ed dur­ing the peri­od of Tal­iban rule. The Food Zone Pro­gram, an effort Man­gal pro­motes, makes it ille­gal to grow pop­py in Afghanistan but allows farm­ers to reg­is­ter to receive fruit and veg­etable seeds to grow instead.

Forty thou­sand farm­ers should see them­selves get­ting wheat seed or veg­etable seeds and some fer­til­iz­er this year to help them do some­thing apart from grow­ing pop­py,” Cameron said.

The team also is open­ing an indus­tri­al park for agri­cul­ture next to Bost Air­field in Hel­mand to let farm­ers sell their prod­ucts and make more mon­ey by open­ing big­ger busi­ness­es, Cameron said.

One of the most impor­tant recent exam­ples of progress, Cameron said, was a rel­a­tive­ly qui­et elec­tion in the province.

There were quite a large num­ber of small-scale secu­ri­ty inci­dents, but no sig­nif­i­cant ones,” she said. “And there was­n’t a shot fired with­in six kilo­me­ters of the dis­trict cen­ter here in Lashkar Gah.”

By the end of 2010, Cameron said, she expects to see a “pret­ty strong provin­cial gov­ern­ment that is pret­ty capa­ble across the board.” The local pop­u­la­tion will wit­ness an increas­ing depth of gov­ern­ment ser­vices, she added, includ­ing edu­ca­tion, and a gov­ern­ment that increas­ing­ly looks to the long term for tak­ing over con­trol of the province and its future.

I sat in the back of a provin­cial coor­di­na­tion cen­ter dur­ing Elec­tion Day and real­ized that if I walked out the door, frankly, noth­ing much would have changed,” she said. “That gives me real con­fi­dence that in five years’ time, dur­ing the next par­lia­men­tary elec­tions … the gov­er­nor, the provin­cial chief of police, the corps com­man­der and the head of the [Nation­al Direc­torate of Secu­ri­ty] will be able to run their own elec­tion by them­selves with­out our sup­port, as opposed to run­ning it with our sup­port as they did this time.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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