The Afghan Face
Written by Nathan Gallahan   
Wednesday, 24 February 2010 19:34

Camp Marmal | Day 17 – It was a little bit of a quiet day today, since Ken and I headed back to the airport. Yes, I admit it, I called Camp Marmal, Mazer-e Sharif in my Day 15 blog. I could have just changed it, but that would be cheating. Mazer-e Sharif is about a 15 minute drive from here.

Since we weren’t out on any missions today, I thought it would be a good time to talk about development in northern Afghanistan. This story really starts when Ken and I were in Western Afghanistan in January. We were on a mission through these big mountains and we were talking about natural resources in this country. Yes, Ken and I really do live and breathe this country. We both agreed that in order for real development to start the Afghans need to do it, they need the resources to do it and they need a way to get the resources to the hardest to reach places. Afghans are very hard workers and they would do the work if they were trained and had

the resources.

One of the answers we came up with was they needed a railway system. They needed trains with 150 cars worth of materials so they could start rebuilding their country. We thought our idea was pretty ground breaking, revolutionary and would save the entire country. The only problem was security. Trains are very susceptible to attack. Then we found out the other day the Afghan government and ISAF beat us to the punch… a railway system is being built from Uzebekistan is Mazer-e Sharif.

For more information, I headed over and talked with the German experts who helped plan and coordinate this project. They talked about way more than this project, including the importance of putting an “Afghan Face” on every project. They were very proud of the fact that Germany has always bought the materials they need for a project off of the local Afghan economy and hired as many Afghans as they could to work the project. The Afghans don’t only need the jobs and money, but they need the experience and training.

Sure, modern and industrialized nations can dig a ditch very efficiently with massive machine in hours, but that’s not what Afghanistan needs. Afghanistan needs work not efficiency, so instead of using machines to do the work quickly, the Germans are hiring hordes of manual labor to dig the ditches and work the job sites. This not only employs them, but puts money back into the economy.

This is where their frustration at the railway project came to the surface. The railway is being funded by an Asian bank for about $170 million dollars. The company wh o won the contract was allowed to hire 700 workers. The com pany didn’t hi re any Afghans. ISAF is currently taking steps to work with the company to see whether Afghans can be hired onto the project, but only time will tell.

I asked them about railway security because I fear it would turn into the United State’s wild wild west years, and it quickly became apparent security wasn’t a topic up for discussion. They did tell me there were a lot of plans to secure the railway though.

They told me about another massive project nearing completion. A new runway has been built here that meets all international standards and will be able to handle almost any aircraft in the world. The total cost for this project is around $100 million. The runway is part of a long term plan to have an international airport here one day to help with the exchange of goods and ease travel for the Afghans.

I asked whether there is an Afghan face to the project, and there is. They hired as many Afghans as they could, but a lot of the more engineering / technical work was handled by international contractors. Also, they said a lot of the raw materials, such as concrete, came from the Afghan economy.

There are more projects going on too, hundreds from what I understand. Schools, wells and clinics are just a few examples. ISAF isn’t the only entity here either. Nongovernmental organizations have a lot of projects going on too. When I went through the counter insurgency leadership course in October, I had an opportunity to meet a lady who used to be married to a member of the Afghan royal family in the 1970s. Her husband died and she stayed in Afghanistan. She now is the sole “westerner” in the organization and she builds hospitals utilizing only Afghan manpower and materials. It seems to be the key here. Unless the Afghans know how to do this themselves, Afghanistan will never be able to stand on its own.

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Comments (8)add comment

Nathan Gallahan said:

Thanks for the great comment! I agree, I love good people too, the world is full of them including most everyone in Afghanistan.
February 14, 2011
Votes: -1

Shoaib Kabuli said:

We Must Salute To ISAF
i m really happy to being ISAF in Afghanistan, i hope u will destroy f**k taliban, i hate the taliban, they r criminals, they has no humanity, the only know kill, bomber, sucide attack, we all happy from ISAF, they left their families just for our security and safety, i only know a good human, and i love good people, who r muslim, christian, jew or other, my way is just humanity with all religion... thank u sir! Love U So Much Dear ISAF, ALL D BEST.
January 26, 2011
Votes: +0

Juicy Couture said:

I enjoy reading the report, too. It′s easy to understand that a journey like this is the biggest event in ones life.
September 02, 2010
Votes: +0

Kristin Swanton said:

This information is definitely what I was looking to read! I'm happy to hear about the progress and the efforts that are being made to include the Afghan people. I am afraid that abuse from working conditions and wages may appear because of the desperate need for jobs, but I am hoping that ISAF and the Afghan government is overseeing this. All I have heard are stories about private contractors using their own people or being the sole profitor for Afghan resources, so it is good (!) to hear otherwise. I'm sure this is still a prevalent problem in the country, but as many of us Americans know, jobs will help stimulate the economy! Thanks Nathan for looking into this, since it's been a serious problem from the beginning.
February 26, 2010
Votes: +0

Imran Khan said:

Researcher/ Doctorate (Computing)
Being Pathan by cast, and pakistani pashtun, educated in the west, still had my reservations of ISAF presence in afghanistan, but I must admit after watching your 17 VBLOGs at this time (0430)of the night(should I call it), that you guys are doing great job. I must salute you and ISAF forces, as you showed great respect to the locals, honoured their feelings their culture ,helping them settle their lives, and left your families for them. It helped us understand alot what you guys in the field think about this war(COIN),irrespective of the hidden agendas planned in drawing rooms by political players. May God bring peace and prosperity to the people of Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. Cheers...
February 26, 2010
Votes: +3

memetalker said:

Afghan Face
Well done. Enjoyed the article and is encouraging. Afghan face needs to be on everything from government, commercialism, economy, schools and even religion. Thanks for what you're doing.
February 25, 2010
Votes: +3

dennis said:

Rail line
I know China won the rights to dig copper in Afghanistan.( A friend who works in Afghanistan.) Says, China just wants chinese workers. And security was to be The peoples Army.(shrug) Now this also includes building a coal fired power plant.I just talk to him on skype to confirm this,The last he's heard "talks have broken down." 11:15 pm my time.
February 25, 2010
Votes: +1

Thanks_173rd_Airborne said:

Development in Northern Afghanistan
Nate, I enjoyed your blog very much. Your report makes me feel more optimistic about Afghanistan's future. I'm really glad to know that many of our partners who are sponsoring development "get it." Afghanistan does not need to follow the model of western development. They need programs that provide jobs,then provide additional training, and in the meantime, jobs that at least pay enough to provide basics for their families.Afghanistan desperately needs "appropriate technology": small innovations that allow them to work better and smarter but will preserve their traditions and honor their history.Jobs and education can work miracles in Afghanistan.
February 25, 2010
Votes: +1

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