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Afghanistan after the US: What's next?

Challenges in Wardak Province, west of Kabul, are a mirror of those the Afghan government will face as US and NATO pull back from reconstruction and aid funding in the next two years.

By Correspondent / May 18, 2012

A US soldier of the 2nd Platoon C Company 9th Engineer Battalion COP Dash Towp stands at the entrance of a house as a resident watches him during a patrol as part of their overall security and disruption insurgency mission in Wardak province, eastern Afghanistan November 2011.

Umit Bektas/Reuters/File

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Maidan Shahr, Afghanistan

A major question at the NATO summit in Chicago this weekend: How will Afghanistan – and its government – fare after US troops leave?

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The answer is likely to come from the Afghan countryside. About three-quarters of the population live in rural areas, far removed from the international talks and meetings about its future. Just how local governments tackle security and development, and adapt to impending financial shortages, could determine how Afghans see the value of a centralized government – and ultimately determine whether Afghanistan can attain stability and development.

In Wardak Province, just west of Kabul, the ubiquitous challenges that plague Afghanistan are playing out. But so too are successes. The province has seen progress under Gov. Mohammad Halim Fidai. “I’m very confident and hopeful that with investment in human capital, education, natural resources – like mines and agriculture – that will be a big step to bring more investment and help so Afghanistan can stand on its own two feet and not have to ask for a penny from any other country,” he says.

Like most issues in Afghanistan, there is no way to definitely demonstrate whether a region like Wardak is moving forward or backward. But Governor Fidai’s daily schedule serves a reminder of progress.

In the course of two days recently, he cut two ceremonial ribbons to inaugurate a public park and youth center and scoped the first shovel of dirt at the ground breaking of a water-shed management project.

After less than four years as governor, he’s seen Afghan security forces in his province grow from just 900 to 3,900. He estimates that he’s overseen more than $1 billion in development spending and he’s found ways to steadily increase tax revenues. His province also saw a 25 percent reduction of insurgent attacks last year. 

Challenges and criticism

Still, the challenges are not few. At the recent ground breaking for a US-funded, half-million dollar watershed management project, locals didn’t appear to understand what all the work is for.

Ground water levels have been dropping throughout the area, a serious concern for farmers. The watershed project is designed to raise water levels by constructing a central reservoir that will replenish wells throughout the area. Several tribal elders, at the ceremony, however, appeared to think the reservoir was a new place for them to come fill buckets, an action that would render the project futile.

This disconnect is common throughout Afghanistan, says Yama Torabi, executive director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan. Those responsible for projects often fail to communicate to local community members the purpose of a given project or even that it’s happening.

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