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.
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“You have to take into consideration [the community’s] needs, and usually this is not the case,” says Mr. Torabi.Skip to next paragraph
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In a community-monitoring effort of 240 development projects in six provinces, which did not include Wardak, IWA found major problems, such as shoddy construction practices, that required attention at two-thirds of the projects. Torabi says in areas like Wardak, where security is a serious concern, there are likely to be even more problems.
Presently, almost all provincial development in Afghanistan comes from foreign funding. Although the development effort in Afghanistan has often faced criticism for problems like those described by Torabi, it’s helped provide services that legitimize the government for many Afghans.
But as the US and NATO reduce their commitment here, that gain, too, is in jeopardy. Already, President Obama has proposed a 34 percent cut on Afghan reconstruction spending in fiscal year 2013.
In Wardak, tax revenues amount to about a quarter of a million dollars. Though that has exceeded Fidai's government’s goals, it’s still only enough to fund half of one minor development effort like the watershed management project. Fidai says he hopes to continue improving tax collection efforts in Wardak to make up for the coming reductions in aid.
On the issue of security
A number of locals criticize Afghan and international security forces for focusing their efforts along the Kabul-Kandahar highway that passes through the province.
They concede that the road is much safer now, but they say villages not on the main road often still face harassment and intimidation. Sher Wali Wardak, a member of parliament who represents the province, says it’s become too dangerous to visit remote villages in the province.
“In Wardak, everything is going in reverse. It’s going to the negative side, not the positive side. If you can just compare it with 2006 or 2007, the security belt is becoming narrower and narrower,” says Mr. Wardak.
Fidai is aware of all the challenges, but he remains undaunted.
He took the highest seat of government in Wardak in July 2008 when the situation he inherited couldn’t seem more dire. Security officials in the area advised him not to travel more than a half a mile away from his offices in the province capital of Maidan Shahr. Government revenues were just a quarter of their annual targets and Wardak, along with the rest of the country, was well into a resurgence of the Taliban.
Fidai, who holds a masters degree in public relations and speaks near-native English, approached his new post largely as a management challenge. He brought in a staff he trusted and worked to retain them by offering competitive salaries with money he saved with simple measures, such as using local building materials on government buildings instead of more expensive imported construction supplies.
“Whether I am successful or not, we’ll leave it for the people to decide,” he says.