NATO allies yesterday marked the end of an almost decade-long involvement in building schools, hospitals, roads and government institutions in a swath of southern Afghanistan.
Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott stood facing a wall memorializing fallen allied soldiers that read “only the dead see the end of war.” His visit to Camp Holland, on the outskirts of the town of Tarin Kot, reflected Australian leadership since last year of the effort in Uruzgan province, which previously had been supervised by the Dutch after being started by the U.S. in 2004.
Such ceremonies will become commonplace amid the planned drawdown of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The U.S. and Afghanistan are attempting to negotiate a long-term security agreement. Without one, the Obama administration has said it will remove all troops from the country rather than maintaining a residual force to train Afghan forces and combat terrorists.
Uruzgan “is still a poor and difficult province, even by Afghan standards,” Abbott said yesterday.
While Abbott listed accomplishments of the reconstruction effort -- including a 20-fold increase in schools for girls since 2001 and a 200-kilometer (124-mile) road network -- Paul Fishstein, an American specialist on Afghanistan, has said that the project’s been marred by corruption and that the aid has had a destabilizing effect on tribal politics.
The end of the reconstruction project in Uruzgan is the last of three such efforts to be handed over to Afghans in a region of south and south-central Afghanistan that includes Kandahar, Zabul and Daykundi provinces. The region is home to the original leaders of the Taliban, including Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Security in Uruzgan province has improved in the past few months because of successful military operations against Taliban insurgents, Lieutenant Colonel Armando Hernandez, a Kandahar-based spokesman for the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, said in an e-mail.
In Uruzgan, the Afghan National Army and police forces “have held their gains and contained the insurgency,” Hernandez said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has criticized the provincial reconstruction efforts throughout the country because donor nations bypassed the central government and funded projects directly. Speaking in February 2011 in Munich, Karzai called for a speedy end to such reconstruction efforts.
Different aid agencies favored different strongmen and exacerbated rivalries that drove losing groups to support the Taliban, Fishstein wrote in a August 2012 paper published by Tufts University’s Feinstein International Center in Somerville, Massachusetts.
“The capture of a disproportionate amount of aid by one group allied with President Hamid Karzai’s Popalzai tribe as a result of its political and economic power created resentment among the groups who lost out,” he said in the paper titled, “Winning Hearts and Minds in Uruzgan Province.”
In Uruzgan, provincial reconstruction teams from the U.S., Australia, and Holland had led to “millions of dollars of support” for building schools, roads, administrative buildings and improving governing capacity, the province’s governor, Amir Mohammad Akhunzada, said in Tarin Kot yesterday.
Even though direct aid to the province had ended, “I hope that friendly countries will continue their help through” Afghanistan’s central government, Akhunzada said.