Building Bak one shura at a time
January 21, 2011
KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Among the new construction surrounding the Bak District Center, local elders, mullahs and government officials met three times in the last week to discuss the future of the district.
The most recent of the shuras, held Jan. 16, included the Provincial Gov. Abdul Jabar Naeemi, the director of education for the province and the provincial National Directorate of Security chief.
"We fought for this government against the Russians. We need to support it now," said the Director of Education to a gathering of Bak locals.
The recent meetings are a small part of a larger effort in the region. Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, in close coordination with the Khowst Provincial Reconstruction Team, or PRT, is working to reinforce relationships in Bak and bring sustained stability to the area by empowering local elders with a district stability working group.
"They met with the Taliban this morning and then came here to talk about reconciliation," said Capt. Steve Baunach, Khowst PRT civil affairs team leader, referring to the elders after a Jan 9 shura. "We're at a tipping point here."
In one of the most historically kinetic regions of Khowst province, change is coming. Words of reconciliation, development and education are spurring action from the executive director, Syed Mohammad, and the district's Afghan National Army chief, Afghan National Police captain, mullahs, elders and other local leaders who comprise the district stability working group.
"We are very much the same, Americans and Pashtuns, we cannot have a strong defense without a strong economy," said Navy Capt. Steve Deal, Khowst PRT commander, to a congregation of Bak elders during a shura.
Bak men are already being put to work building irrigation canals in the village of Wardigan. Pelan Kheyl village, a few kilometers away, is in the process of analyzing and preparing modifications to a retaining wall for their water supply. Throughout the last week, Bak has seen multiple engineering assessments by one of the PRT's engineers.
"These projects provide infrastructure and employ military-age males giving them a source of income away from the insurgency, and helping bring them closer to the Afghan government," said U.S. Navy Lt. Mark Fetterman, Khowst PRT engineer from Plymouth, Mass., who conducted assessments in the area for future development.
While International Security Assistance Forces and locals are hopeful for the coming development and working groups, the security situation remains fragile.
The combat outpost attached to the district center is a new reminder of the resolution of ISAF and Afghan forces to bring and keep peace in the district.
"There are bad people here who shoot rockets from the mountains," said one village elder. "We don't know who they are, but we all know we want you here," he said, addressing local government officials, ANA, ANP and coalition leadership during the Jan. 9 shura. "We are hurting from the fighting. We're tired of it."
Naeemi expressed his hopes to a similar crowd gathered a week later for the Jan. 16 shura at the district center.
"It is clear the insurgents want nothing good for Afghanistan," he said. "The ISAF forces have brought us an Army, schools, roads. The insurgents bring none of this."
Standing among his staff and other government leadership, Naeemi looked across the district center at many of Bak's influential heads.
"We're here," he said. "We want to walk with you."