Channelling development funds through local structures means that funds are more likely to be spent on things of real value to the community. In addition, where there’s a possibility of using local labour it will be done, thereby helping to make a dent in the huge problem of youth unemployment.
Community Development Councils are meant to represent 70 percent of the local community, include female representation and abide by quorum rules. Those criteria are something the Afghans have put up along with the National Solidarity Programme but, Lt Col Gordon says, each CDC is different.
“The interesting thing is while the institutions are part of formally blessed government, the composition of CDC’s is massively variable – in some cases, Taliban run them, in some cases there are Taliban sympathisers and government people, and others where the Taliban have intimidated them and they’ve disbanded.
It’s a different institutional topography. Community access is a real problem - this is a hugely active war zone so generating any element of civil society is a problem. The CDCs have to reflect the composition of a village but you’ve got to work with who you can work with.”
As the funds come from the UK Stabilisation Aid Fund, much of the paper work is done by the UK military and there is a relatively high level of oversight - by DfID or the military.
“We try to create an environment where Afghan officials can visit and begin the process of developing some political settlement with communities, so a big part of Provincial Reconstruction Team work has been literally putting people on helicopters, flying them to Musa Qaleh, finding conditions where they can engage, allowing people to define their priorities, engaging with what passes for civil societies and using the UK stabilisation funding to facilitate that.”
“It’s a much more risk taking and pragmatic environment, so you need to ask if money’s going to a community, who are you empowering, what impact will it have on the conflict ....sometimes that’s a really difficult assessment and while the average British serviceman or woman is steeped in the principles of common sense and pragmatism, there are times when those qualities can be tested. But, you’ve got to ask what the alternatives are. If the environment is so dangerous you simply can’t have civilian participation what do you do? Have the military delivering a largely kinetic strategy and expect that to deliver peace that’s sustainable, or use the military both to contain the military threat posed by the Taliban and Al Qaeda but also to try and create a pathway for engagement by appropriate civilian institutions?”
Lt Col Gordon is in no doubt that it’s patience and pragmatism that will pay off in the long term rebuilding of Afghanistan.