- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 8, 2002

CHARIKAR, Afghanistan They may show up for school and work in burkas the ankle-length, periwinkle face-and-body veils that have come in the West to symbolize Taliban repression but when the veils come off, Afghan women speak their minds.
On their minds today are the seemingly hollow promises of aid from the developed world to help them recover from 20 years of war.
"What can you do to help us? Are you just here to look or are you here to help?" a woman stands to demand of a reporter visiting the Parwan Women Teachers' Institute near the provincial capital Charikar, about 20 miles from the U.S.-led alliance's air base in Bagram.
"Many agencies come here, but we've received nothing. All the time they are coming here and taking pictures, but no one ever helps," she said through an interpreter.
The situation is not unique to Parwan, now a co-educational school for teachers. Behind the palpable frustration here lies a complex tale of missed opportunities and institutional friction and the suggestion that donor nations are holding onto much-needed relief funds because of uncertainty about the country's future.
Of the $1.8 billion promised at the international aid conference in Tokyo for this year, only $870 million has been delivered so far, and just $526 million between January and now, Nigel Fisher, the U.N. deputy envoy to Afghanistan, told a news conference June 1.
The needs here are acute: The windows of the school were all blown out by bombs and fire. Whole sections of roof are missing. The library is four walls stocked with a random assortment of 50-year-old books written in English. There are no blackboards, desks or chalk, and the laboratory consists of equipment recovered from the rubble after the building was attacked by a Taliban plane.
"The laboratory is like an aptitude test," said Maj. Bryan Cole, surveying the broken pieces of equipment cluttering four tables, waiting for someone to assemble them into something recognizable and hopefully useful.

A personal project
The crew-cut, relentlessly cheerful Maj. Cole is a U.S. Army civil-affairs officer who has taken this college on as a personal project, as his wife teaches at a teachers' college back home. The work needed is well beyond the scope of what the U.S. military can provide.
The U.S. Army team came to the school last week to see how its meager offering of wood and carpentry supplies is being put to use and to photograph the skillfully constructed window and door frames to submit proof to their superiors that Parwan is worthy of help.
The school needs about $400,000 of work, much of it to rebuild the kitchen and dining room and restore the dormitories to habitable conditions. About 70 students attend the school now. They have been here for more than two weeks.
For this amount of money, Maj. Cole must appeal to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). He derives his funding from the State Department, but this project is out of his range unless he can interest USAID.
The students, all of whom teach every morning before coming to study here, must be patient.
They exercise patience daily: All have been working in local schools for the last five months, and none have been paid for more than eight weeks.
"We have to do that, because that's our country and, hopefully, one day we will be paid," one woman explained.

Front-line battlefield
Parwan was caught up in Afghanistan's civil war for 15 years before finding itself on the front line in the fight between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban.
When Maj. Cole arrived at the school for the first time, it was littered with more than 200 unexploded rockets. The school was quickly cleared of ordnance by the Halo Trust via the military's Afghan interpreter, Hedayatullah, who pulled strings with the organization he worked for as a paramedic for nine years.
Therein lies at least part of the problem: Most nongovernmental agencies pulled out of Afghanistan long ago, as it was just too dangerous for their workers. While the aid groups are slowly returning to the major cities, help is slow to trickle out to small towns like this one, where the security situation remains at best uncertain.
According to one official from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), many donor nations are also withholding aid until after the Kabul meeting of the loya jirga, which will choose a new government beginning next week.
"There may be political concerns to hold back some of the funding to see the outcome of the loya jirga before further decisions are taken on where they put their funds," Jeff McMurdo of the IOM recently told a U.N. news service.
The IOM and the U.N. World Food Program have had to suspend or cancel projects because of a lack of funds, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has said it will run out of money at the end of June.
What money has been given to Afghanistan does not appear to have made it to Parwan.
"The bureaucracy, they are just not set up to handle it," a military official said.

A difficult mission
This frustrates the small civil-affairs division at Bagram air base that is painstakingly making connections at schools and in villages to see what they can do to help.
"They are our best weapon in Afghanistan right now," a senior official at Bagram said of the civil-affairs team.
Even more frustrating is the difficult time the U.S. military seems to have coordinating with aid agencies in Kabul.
"If we could do the well and they could do the school, we'd be really doing something," said Maj. John Wiegand, a reservist from Knoxville, Tenn., with the 489th Civil Affairs Battalion.
Although his bosses meet with relief agencies in a coordinating meeting every week in Kabul, pooling their efforts is proving challenging. The United Nations Children's Fund is the exception, he said.
Relief workers, for their part, say the military is just not used to building partnerships or working the way aid agencies are used to.
One, who asked not to be identified, said the problem was in part about the different cultures of the military and aid groups. "The general feeling," the aid worker said, "is that the military are very effective at accomplishing things in their own way. They see the need for a bridge, they go get it built that's it. For some agencies, the process getting the whole community involved in planning and building the bridge is important, too. That's not how the military work."

Uniforms preferred
The entire team today was in military fatigues, wearing flak jackets and carrying weapons. They prefer it this way, as the good work they do in uniform enhances the military's standing among Afghans. Relief workers say that, in other parts of the country, civil-affairs officers still work out of uniform, at the discretion of their local commanders, a continuing source of friction.
With U.S. officers working out of uniform, aid workers say they fear they will be mistaken as American soldiers and killed.
"I would have hoped to see more cooperation, but we're still getting the bad press" on the uniform issue, Maj. Wiegand said, as the van he was driving gingerly maneuvered over a rushing river on a 7-foot-wide, open-sided bridge. The regular bridge was blown up by the Northern Alliance to keep Taliban tanks from rolling north.
"We are trying not to be a long-term presence here. We're trying to get out of long-term nation-building," Maj. Wiegand said.
"They can help with that," he said, referring to the nongovernmental organizations he'd like to see here to hand out the blankets, food and school supplies, for which the local population currently relies on the U.S. military.
This short-term approach, says the relief worker, is another root of the occasional tension between the military and the agencies.
"Some of these NGOs have been here a very long time. They know they're going to be here after the military have left. Their goals are long term: They want to build an economy here from the grass roots up. The military isn't used to promoting that kind of collective endeavor."

Seeking teamwork
Maj. Wiegand imagines a situation in which nongovernmental organizations and his civil-affairs teams can work side by side, getting whole projects started and finished. When the troops rotate out, as they are supposed to do every six months, the NGOs would be in place to train the new soldiers in what to do, so the projects would not miss a beat.
But some groups just aren't interested in working with the military, says the relief worker. "Some NGOs especially the European ones they just flat-out refuse to coordinate with the military. They're just institutionally and morally opposed to working with them."
The first stop of Maj. Wiegand's daylong visit is to pick up the deputy education minister of Charikar province, akin to a superintendent of a county school system.
Maj. Wiegand, who handles logistics for an international boat-manufacturing company back home and has taken a serious pay cut to be here, has a plan: He will send a car for the education minister and the governor of the province next week to deliver them to the weekly meeting with relief agencies in Kabul.
Maybe if the NGOs hear the plea from the Afghans themselves rather than uniformed officers they will come here to help the rebuilding work.
"Think about it: This was the front line for three years. Who needs rebuilding more than they do?" Maj. Wiegand said.

A beautiful place
The region is stunningly beautiful ringed by the snow-covered peaks of the Hindu Kush mountains. It is green with grapevines, onions, radishes and cucumbers. Wheat is ready to be harvested. Old mud-and-brick walls crisscross the landscape, penning in animals, irrigation canals and vest-pocket farms.
The team spent the morning at a girls' school in Jabalussaraj, a hilltop town surrounded by green. Small canals pulled water from a 40-year-old Chinese-built aquifer heavily damaged by the Taliban.
Cool breezes sweep down the mountainsides; hollyhocks, roses, and day lilies bloom in tidy gardens.
A wooden gate embedded in a foot-thick, 8-foot-long wall swings open to a courtyard full of girls. Reconstruction on their school, courtesy of the U.S. military through the good graces of Majs. Wiegand and Cole, will begin in a few weeks.
The town was twice taken by the Taliban. They were finally beaten back about three years ago. As they pulled out, Taliban planes dropped bombs on the town that sliced through the roof of the school, said Mahera, a female teacher at the school.
"It was scary. Many people were hurt," said Shaiesta, a 16-year-old girl.
Some of the girls, including 17-year-old Khatera, continued their studies at home when they were barred from school because of the fighting.
"Since the Taliban collapse from here, we have a peaceful life. There was a big party," she said.
Hamzia, a beautiful, brown-eyed 13-year-old girl, asks a reporter if she would like to interview her. She wants to go on to the university in Kabul, become an engineer and return to the town to help rebuild it.
"I don't like the burka," she offers. "Whatever I do, I don't want to wear it because it is too heavy on my head."

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