Afghans build for their future
April 19, 2009
NAGHLU, Afghanistan — Air Force Capt. Jim Gingras and Sayyed Suleiman Bastalavi had a good conversation Friday about a road project in eastern Afghanistan.
They discussed where the road was going, the quality of its surface and how it would help the region. When they finished, Bastalavi, the leader of one of the districts in the area, asked Gingras if the Kapisa Provincial Reconstruction Team could bring any more projects to the area.
The PRT lead engineer and project payment officer had a simple question: Do you have your provincial development plan?
The slew of projects under way in Afghanistan can look haphazard at first glance, but the days when coalition forces threw in projects without consulting Afghan authorities are mostly over. Now most PRT projects — and all major ones — come off a list drawn up by provincial authorities called the provincial development plan.
The goal is to ensure U.S. money goes toward the needs that Afghans themselves have identified, said Lt. Col. Brian Kenna, the PRT executive officer.
"We’ll give them some technical advice, but the development vision is done by the provincial government," he said.
The governor, all provincial council member and the "line directors" — the bureaucrats in charge of provincial-level ministries — are all on the committee that creates the plan.
It’s a big group if they meet all at once, but most of the planning is done in small working groups. Provincial council members voice their constituents’ needs and meet with the line directors to formulate a plan.
The Kapisa PRT has 64 active projects. It is currently finishing 30 smaller projects, most of them projects inherited from its predecessor. The remainder are larger ventures tailored to the Afghan government’s needs, exactly the type of project that will dominate the team’s future efforts.
The focus on larger projects is partly because small projects take manpower disproportionate to their size, Kenna said. Regardless of the size of the project, someone must still draft the plan, negotiate the contract and inspect the work.
But the shift also comes because leaders don’t want to divert scarce resources from the provincial council’s priorities. Gingras noted that the widespread acceptance of counterinsurgency has made everyone interested in development but that the provincial council might not want to support the project that soldiers on the ground have in mind.
This doesn’t mean the Afghans have carte blanche to pick which projects actually get built. Their wishes are balanced against counterinsurgency needs, Kenna said.
The team might choose to build a road in a troubled region instead of building a new government building in a secure area. Both ideas will still be on the development plan; the Americans just choose to go with one that the Afghans put farther down the list. The goal is still to extend the reach of the provincial council into problem areas.
"They’ve got a big list of needs," Kenna said. "We’re trying to get them to sit down and prioritize. It’s not as though we’re going to build a road here and they’re saying, ‘Well, we don’t want a road here.’"