Saturday, July 4, 2009
Well, my year in Musa Qala is nearly up and it’s time to say my goodbyes to my Afghan and British friends here. I must say the time really has flown by and much has happened in this small corner of Helmand, not least improved security, leading to increased freedom of movement and an uplift in business in Musa Qala.
And some basics are in place: school, clinic, some roads, improved electricity supply. But to fill the security "envelope" provided by the Afghan security forces and their British counterparts, the Afghan government needs to step in and be seen to be working full time in the district; Afghans deserve a government that listens to its people and is trusted.
Until now in Musa Qala, we foreigners - civilian and military - have sometimes seemed to be the only people the local population could approach to discuss their problems and get things done. But the Afghan government understands that it has to assume its proper place in the lives of the locals, and in other parts of Helmand this process is already under way, led by an energetic and progressive Provincial Governor.
I really believe the people of Musa Qala are ready for that next step: they are interested in the future of their country and are now gearing up for August's presidential and provincial elections. Successful voter registration earlier this year means that people are at least in a position to vote - providing they feel safe and know enough about the choices on offer.
Even if we sometimes lacked Afghan attention, we certainly weren’t short of British visitors to Musa Qala, from Ross Kemp through assorted generals to the PM, all have shown huge interest in the people of Musa Qala and the UK military who have come here to help them.
I will leave here with an enormous admiration for the British military who have hosted this strange civilian with great patience and I wish them all a safe return home. At the same time I commend our exceptionally brave and talented local staff and other local partners who I hope will remain in their country to continue to improve the lot of its people.