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Elders, Officials Gather to Discuss Concerns

By Air Force Master Sgt. Sarah R. Webb
Special to American Forces Press Service

GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Jan. 12, 2010 – Fifty-six elders gathered to represent their villages during a Jan. 3 meeting held in the Dey Yak District Center here with district government officials, the provincial police chief, and coalition forces representatives.

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A village elder listens as the provincial chief of police speaks at the the Deh Yak district center in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, Jan. 3, 2010. The group met to discuss the security in the district as well as relationships between the villagers and the police who protect them. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Sarah R. Webb
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The “shura” as such meetings are known, gave the elders an opportunity to explain the problems facing the people of their villages and a forum to voice their concerns regarding the security of their areas.

Before the shura began, governmental leaders, members of the provincial reconstruction team assigned to Forward Operating Base Ghazni and the combined action unit from Forward Operating Base Vulcan met to discuss current issues. During this meeting, police chief Gen. Khayalbaz Shirzai stressed the importance of combined action.

“Those who are leaders have to travel to the different villages together,” Shirzai said. “Myself, the subgovernors and coalition forces have to go to the [district centers] together so that we can coordinate and hear problems that the [Afghan National Police] and people are having.”

The shura began with opening remarks from the district’s education director.

“The police are inviting the people of this area and International Security Assistance Forces to get together for unification,” the director said. “They are trying to bring happiness. They do not support or back up the Taliban. If you kill each other here, we won’t be here any more. We should not kill each other. We are all Muslim; we should respect humankind.”

Haji Fazil Mohammed, the district subgovernor, spoke to the audience to promote cooperation between Afghan and coalition forces.

“It will take time to rebuild Afghanistan,” he said. “Before, there were good and secure areas. For the last seven years, foreigners have had a hand in rebuilding our country. You can see coalition forces building district centers, clinics and schools.”

Fazil went on to explain procedures on how to report abuse, bribery or any Taliban action. He also expressed his disapproval of Taliban activities.

“Some Taliban are laying mines in the roads. If we build the roads … why do they do it? They should have reasons to. They’re born in this country and they are destroying it. What’s the benefit?

“This is not the role of humanity,” he continued. “We have no unity. That is why the [provincial reconstruction team] can’t build projects. I trust that you are not Taliban. You have to cooperate with us. We can’t have security without the residents’ participation. Without the residents’ participation, we can’t have [Afghan forces’] support.”

The shura also was an opportunity for villagers to say how they feel about the police and the presence of coalition forces working with them.

“If you come to the government buildings and report abuse or bribery or any Taliban action, we will call the Operation Coordination Center Provincial and take care of it,” Haji Fazil said.

Army Lt. Col. Kenneth Primus, the provincial reconstruction team’s deputy commander, thanked the villagers for bringing their issues to the meeting. He explained how the team could help them and shared security problems plaguing specific projects.

“Before we can build, there must be security,” Primus said. “There are clinics in Laghawat and Janabad that need to be constructed. We have actually tried to start work in Janabad. But these projects were stopped. They were cancelled because our contractors were attacked. If we go to Janabad, if we go to Laghawat, we are attacked.”

Primus emphasized that the local residents must take responsibility for the security in their villages before development can proceed.

“We can either fight, or we can build. We are very good at both, but not at the same time,” Primus said. “That’s why we’re here today. We want to help improve the security and the relationship that the people have with the police. We would rather build than fight. We are here to help the Afghan people.”

The event ended with Haji Fazil praising the police and assuring the elders that the police not only will respond when necessary, but also will be held accountable if there is any misconduct.

“The police do the best they can for setting security,” Fazil said. “If the police do anything wrong, then you need to complain. You can speak freely without being afraid. If the police do something wrong, they will be punished according to the rule of law.”

(Air Force Master Sgt. Sarah R. Webb serves with the provincial reconstruction team’s public affairs office in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province.)

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NATO International Security Assistance Force

Click photo for screen-resolution imageA village elder speaks with the provincial police chief during a meeting in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, Jan. 3, 2010. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Sarah R. Webb   
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