Early on in our deployment we realized that of the 50 some odd government officials “working” in Qalat City on a daily basis there were perhaps 4 that interacted with the populace on a daily basis and even less that traveled outside the walls of a government compound to meet with the people where they live and work (this is not including the 3 top security officials in the ANA, ANP and NDS). We identified that this was a problem, especially when the government is supposed to be the servant of the people and so few officials are Zabul natives to begin with. With the high speed commander we had we were soon tasked with figuring out how to solve this problem and Operation Wroorwali was born.
The first task at hand was to come up with a way to intentionalize (not a real word but a real word in the military) which villages we interact with since obviously attacking all the villages in the Province or even district of Qalat City was out of the question. So we enlisted the help of our trusted governor’s advisors to begin to compose a list of the 25 most influential villages in the districts of Qalat and Shah Joy. Villages that if they turned “green” they would spread to and influence other villages to do the same, this is sometimes known as the ink-stain/oil-spot theory. That a concentrated effort in the right place will spread to affect the areas around it. In conjunction to identifying these key villages the PRT would identify a lead to sponsor these villages, charged with coordinating a government official to visit the village and identify how the government could reach out to the villagers.
Operation Wroorwali had its share of challenges: villages not willing to talk with government officials, government officials not willing to show up to go and meet with villages, meeting with people other than the true elders because of fear of retribution from the insurgents, government officials not following up on any of the issues of the villagers because “that’s not their job”. Just a few of the frustrations that encountered us. Luckily, like most of the problems, there were those few successes that kept us motivated and able to overcome the many non-successes.
My village was Jangora and when I went on R&R Georganne took up the reins for me with us finishing together. After an unsuccessful first visit we called in the elders to meet with us at the Gov’s compound hoping that would garner some leads…and it did. The Executive Director for the Governor’s Office was suckered into sitting in on the meeting at the last minute after the Deputy Govenor decided he didn’t want to. This turned out to be great. Over the next few months the Exec Director, with much persistence from us, continued to contact the villagers and went to visit them twice.
At the 2 month point of having karez cleaning supplies stored in a CONEX on our base and waiting for the villagers to come pick them up (we had Guhlam call about 2x/week) we decided to go and visit again and bring a sample so we could show them that we did in fact have them. This theory worked. Guhlam sat down with the elders and convinced them to come that day and pick up the supplies. Sure enough that afternoon (though an hour late) the representative showed up and picked up the supplies under Guhlam’s supervision. I can’t explain how exciting this was. I was proud, Guhlam was proud, such a small thing created so much satisfaction. Thus Guhlam’s Golden Governance was born, he is a self-proclaimed influential man and available for consultation and hire.
One more story from Wroorwali. Another of the villages agreed to accept supplies to help rebuild their mosque but the villager we were working with didn’t want anyone to know he was working with us. This man was so concerned about someone turning him in to the Taliban for cooperating with the government and ISAF that there was a secret code used when phone calls were made.
- Only Afghans were allowed to call him or answer the phone…if someone stole his phone and called the number and an American answered he would be in big trouble.
- When we called him first thing we would ask is: “is this mohammad adbdul?” Once again we need to make sure that someone else isn’t answering his phone. He would answer “ yes ” which we would reply “which mohammad abdul is this?” and he would reply to this final test with “mohammad abdul with the badge” referencing the badge he was given when he came to the PRT to meet about the supplies.
- After this was complete then business could be addressed and taken care of. You can’t make this stuff up!
Ultimately Operation Wroorwali should be turned over to the battle space owners with government officials and project coordination being the PRT’s primary involvement but we’ll see what happens. Hopefully there will continue to be benefits to this program since it did do a great job of increasing the amount of contact government officials had with villagers (from about 4 people to about 15 people) and the amount of time government officials spent with the populace (increasing by approximately 1150%). But like so many things when building governance capacity it takes a lot of patience and energy and many failures and set backs for a single success to occur, like delivering karez cleaning supplies.