War on Terrorism

Monday, May 10, 2010

Afghanistan future already exists in Panjshir

by 2nd Lt. Jason Smith
Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir Public Affairs

5/10/2010 - PANJSHIR, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- A mineral water-bottling plant, kabob restaurants and construction site of the Massoud Tomb Complex don't necessarily reflect images of a war-torn nation; nor does the permissiveness allowing American military and civilian members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir to move relatively freely throughout this area of Afghanistan.

In his August 2009 International Security Assistance Force Commander's Counterinsurgency Guidance, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal writes, "Earn the support of the people, and the war is won, regardless of how many militants are killed or captured."

Based on that guidance, the "war is won" in the Panjshir Province.

The people of Panjshir support their PRT, says Rohullah Yousufi, the Panjshir Province Director of Culture and Information.

"They support them because of what the PRT has done for the people," said Mr. Yousufi. "The people didn't expect to support them, but they saw what they did, and now the expectations are too high."

Panjshir, the newest of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan, is the story of a successful, Afghan-led province with good governance, said Lt. Col. Curtis Velasquez, the PRT Panjshir commander.

"We are the model province for what security and good governance can do to win the war through counterinsurgency operations," Colonel Velasquez said. "Our province is unlike any other in Afghanistan. You can look around and quickly see how the people here look at us as guests in their country and partners in their reconstruction efforts."

Mr. Yousufi's recommendation to other provinces looking to build a Panjshir-style model is cooperation with the PRTs, but more importantly cooperation between the people and government. He says trust for the government is earned when reconstruction efforts meet the legitimate needs of the people.

"Unity, security and people supporting the government; these are the positive things about Panjshir that makes it different than the rest of Afghanistan," said Yousufi. "The government should try to keep the people united by showing it is with them."

The history and ethnic population of Panjshir also contribute to its success, according to Khalid Siddiqi, PRT Panjshir political advisor. Siddiqi said when U.S. Soldiers initially came to Panjshir, they came to help fight the Taliban.

"Most support for the Taliban comes from the south because their leadership is coming from the Pashtun Tribe," said Mr. Siddiqi.

"When the Taliban came into Panjshir, Parwan and Kapisa, they had no rights for other tribes," said Mr. Saddiqi, an ethnic Tajik. "They said only one tribe could be in control. That's why we resisted."

The future of the other provinces depends on the politics of Kandahar, Mr. Siddiqi said. He said that the Afghan people traditionally follow proven leaders.

The Panjshiris are not strangers to Taliban activity either. Afghan National Army Col. Rajab Khan, the commander of the Panjshir Operations Coordination Center (Provincial), fought the Russians and Taliban. Now he works with the PRT because he says he wants to stop the Taliban from becoming the whole world's problem.

"We know about the Taliban and al Qaeda because we were their victims," said Colonel Rajab. "They are creating problems for the whole world, and if we don't stop them now, then it will become a much bigger problem."

Colonel Rajab says the Taliban originally claimed to be fighting because they had no power in the government.

"Now they are fighting for opium," said Colonel Rajab. "Now it's more about business than it is political. They're claiming they grow narcotics because they say no one helps them with agriculture. No one helped (the Panjshiris). We're not selling narcotics. It's just an excuse."

There are many factors involved in the equation of Afghanistan. For those hoping to rid the country of the Taliban and other extremists, the vision of what the rest of Afghanistan could look like exists today in Panjshir.

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