Battle for Kandahar: If Afghan Gov't Doesn't Improve, 'We're Going to Lose'

'It's All about Governance'

Blackwatch Company arrived at the district headquarters in Combat Outpost Rath -- named after a soldier who died in the area -- in September. Bawari, the district governor, was spending most of his time in Kandahar City, about 60 miles away. When he was in the district, he rarely ventured out, and would say to anyone who asked him that his job was to "receive visitors," if he had any.

The vacuum created by the lack of political leadership, as well as a dearth of U.S. troops, empowered the Taliban.

"When we got here, the government was providing absolutely nothing," Thoreen says. "The Taliban were providing more than the government. And the government was associated with corruption and police brutality."

As in many parts of Afghanistan, the Taliban provided a speedy justice system. The government provided no justice system at all. Maiwand residents became convinced that local government officials were looking after only themselves.

"Eight years have passed but we still don't trust this government," Ali Mohammad says as he pumps gas into containers in the back of his station wagon. "Eight years have passed but they are still after money to put in their pockets."

Blackwatch Company was given its assignment: Improve and mentor Bawari and, at the same time, find and empower local village and tribal elders. If the elders were empowered, they could help keep out the Taliban. And if they recognized Bawari's authority, the Americans might just succeed at restoring a local, culturally accepted system of justice that the Taliban had helped destroy.

"The Taliban is not only counter-government," argues a senior officer in Maiwand who asked not to be identified. "They've killed 24 tribal leaders. The Taliban is also counter-cultural."

The system that the Taliban has helped destroy revolves around the shura, a meeting of tribal elders. In Maiwand, the shuras are led by Bawari inside the new district center.

In a recent shura, about 60 tribal elders showed up to complain to the visiting Kandahar provincial governor, Tooryalai Wesa. The room was packed despite recent attempts by the Taliban to threaten leaders who attend the shura.

"Before, we used to invite district officials and they would never come because they'd be killed if they did," says a separate senior military officer who requested anonymity.

Little Help From Kabul

The shuras are now so popular there are two per week, forcing the the U.S. soldiers who sometimes provide security outside to turn people away at the door, Thoreen says.

Such community participation facilitates development, assistance and education projects that the United States needs in order to bring long-term security to the area.

"Now we provide tangible services," Thoreen says. "It's all about governance. Governance supports security, and it creates development."

But Thoreen and Bawari know it's not enough for the Americans to support the local government. The local government must be self-sustaining. It must get its support from the Afghan government, not U.S.

Bawari has no staff except a personal assistant and no budget except his monthly $400 salary.

"We're doing a good job with what little we have," Bawari says.

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