Afghanistan war: The civics in a Kandahar governor's slap
In the Afghanistan war, the Kandahar offensive was postponed this summer to strengthen civic institutions. Does a governor who smacks his constituents toe the appropriate line?
Panjwayi District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Tension was running high in this farming area in late June after a number of locals were arrested by Canadian and Afghan troops for suspected insurgent activity. So the Canadians were relying on Haji Baran, governor of this district in the heart of Kandahar Province, to help them quiet villagers' concerns.Skip to next paragraph
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Crisply robed and rotund, with the air of authority of Afghan khans of centuries past, Mr. Baran swept from an Afghan Army vehicle through the 115-degree F. heat and into the shade of a patio crowded with village men anxiously chattering about sons and brothers detained. Though illiterate, Baran had in his head the carefully crafted NATO talking points about the necessity of the recent military operation.
But he didn't have the specifics that his constituents wanted so soon after the operation: Where were their loved ones? So, adjourning the meeting and rising to leave, he invited anyone with questions to come to his office in a few days when he would know more. But as he was exiting, a crescendo of questions followed, the crowd tugging at his sleeves.
Without warning, Baran firmly lashed out with a beefy palm and slapped one of the more persistent villagers across the face. The stunned questioner was silenced, but the crowd continued the clamor all the way to the ramp of a Canadian armored troop carrier that would seal him off from the crowd.
For Baran, the slap was business as usual.
For the Canadian soldiers and US civilians advising him, trying to put a positive face on the local government, the slap was a minor disaster. Officers filed disapproving reports. A Monitor reporter, the only journalist in attendance, received numerous briefings about the International Security Assistance Force's emphatic condemnation of such conduct.
But in a brutal war zone, where Baran himself has survived five assassination attempts, what's a slap, really?
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International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials postponed their major summer offensive in Kandahar in large part to strengthen the local government. Leaders like Baran are desperately needed on board with NATO. In order to maintain any security gains achieved by the offensive, military officials say a civic bulwark must be firmly in place. And the Panjwayi district of 80,000 people spread over a barren desert with farmland sprouting along waterways is symbolically important as a place to tame: It's the birthplace of the Taliban and in the middle of one of the most violent provinces of Afghanistan.
So a governor who addresses constituent concerns with the back of his hand (or in Baran's case, the palm) raises serious questions about not only the readiness of the Afghan government, but also about whether the international security operations can achieve positive long-term effects.