Friday, September 19, 2008

NGO briefing on Reconstruction Activities in North East Afghanistan

On September 11th, 2008, the Department of State invited representatives of Non-Government Organizations to participate in a briefing regarding the current situation in North East Afghanistan. The presenter, Matthew Asada, has been a member of the Foreign Service since 2003, and spent the past year working with a German-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
Asada opened the briefing by stressing that Kunduz and the surrounding regions provide a strategic transit link to Kabul, as well as other North and Central Asia trading regions. According to Asada, the current security issues facing the region prevent it from reaching its maximum capacity or trading, and functionality. However, during the year he was stationed there, he witnessed an increase in security, trade, and overall community morale. This is due to counter-insurgency efforts, as well as foreign aid and investment, and training programs for local officers.
The German PRT launched a multifaceted counter-insurgency effort that focused on immediate security. Their main objectives included patrolling around known troubled regions to ensure orderly conduct, as well as extensively training local police officers. They would retrain them to prevent corruption, and then mentors would follow the police officers back to their regions for two additional months, in order to help them re-acclimate to their posts. The local police officers also received a pay increase in order to help combat bribery. These tactics allowed for the German PRT to patrol in expanding rings, with Kunduz in the center. And they did not have to continue patrolling the same areas, as the local police were able to Patrol relatively stable regions. This specific program not only improved safety, but also improved relations between the German PRT and the local Afghani National Security Forces and Intelligence offices.
In addition to the German PRT programs, Asada attributes Kunduz’s improvements to international developments such as the Tajik Bridge, which was part of a $49 million dollar project sponsored by the United States. This bridge links Afghanistan to Tajikistan for the first time ever. It is a major trade point, and prior to the bridge, the transportation of goods was conducted through a ferry system that could only transport 30 trucks per day. The new bridge currently holds a record of 600 trucks per day (including delays caused by border checks between the two countries). Since the bridge opened in October 2007, trade has been increased sevenfold, and customs profits have multiplied by ten.
While these are all great feats for Kunduz and Afghanistan as a whole, Asada stresses that the battle is far from won. There is still turmoil in the country over the legitimacy of the government, and its levels of corruption, specifically in the judiciary system. There is also much more development to be done, and a lot of help needed. Asada remarks that although the current development sponsored by the US is fantastic, the organizations that know development the best are in fact NGOs. Essentially, he believes Afghanistan could benefit from an increase in NGO participation in the region. Currently USAID is working on building schools in the region, along with the help of UNHCR. However, there are many more projects that need to be taken up. Among the challenges faced include a lack of power during the winter, and while donor countries can do a lot of help, they face many more bureaucratic limitations as well.

Sponsor: Department of State
Date: September 11th, 2008
Representative: Daria Willis

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