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Cablegate: Panjshir Governor Out On the Hustings

VZCZCXRO2257
RR RUEHIK RUEHPOD RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #0623/01 0720526
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 120526Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3209
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 000623

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/FO DAS CAMP, SCA/A
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CENTCOM FOR CG CSTC-A, CG CJTF-82 POLAD

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: MCAP MOPS PREL PGOV PTER PHUM AF
SUBJECT: PANJSHIR GOVERNOR OUT ON THE HUSTINGS

1. (U) Summary: Panjshir Governor Bahlul visited Panjshir's
districts to hear directly from citizens in an open "town meeting"
format. These sessions are examples of accountability in governance
and reveal grass-roots concerns.

DISTRICT-BY-DISTRICT "TOWN MEETINGS"
-----------------------------------

2. (SBU) In late 2007 Governor Haji Bahlul Bahij discussed the idea
of holding a "state of the province" meeting. To this end, the
Governor decided on a series of town meetings, timed to coincide
with the end of the Afghan solar year (March 20), to be followed up
by a general session perhaps in the form of an augmented Provincial
Development Council meeting.

3. (U) At venues across the province, the meetings drew
standing-room-only crowds for sessions, which typically lasted 4-5
hours each. On each occasion, the Governor began with a
straightforward declaration of what has been accomplished and what
is planned, and then opened the floor to comments from participants.


4. (SBU) At each meeting the Governor was flanked by the newly
elected Chairman of the Provincial Council (PC). This closeness
provides hope for a better working relationship than has been the
case with the previous PC chairman. Following his remarks, the
Governor turned the podium to the district manager to provide a
summary of completed and ongoing projects. Key line directors (e.g.
Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Economy, Agriculture, and
Education) gave similar summaries. Line directors received the
toughest questions from the participants.

5. (SBU) Attendees generally thanked the PRT for its work, although
attendees were quick to raise projects that the PRT had either not
agreed to or had not considered. These were often small or located
in extremely remote parts of the province. Another common question
concerned the PRT's contracting methodology, which required that the
PRT defend its "best-value decision matrix" for selecting
contractors.

COMMON THEMES
-------------

6. (SBU) Agriculture: This is a weak line directorate in Panjshir.
(The previous line director fled the province under suspicion of
embezzlement and is in hiding.) The Ministry of Agriculture has not
yet named a replacement, and the deputy line director was often
overwhelmed in the face of complaints from the audiences. The
Governor repeatedly shifted the blame to Kabul for not yet finding a
replacement. The Minister himself, according to Governor Bahlul, is
an "American businessman" more interested in his business interests
than agriculture in Afghanistan.

7. (SBU) Economy: The economic line director, who comes closer than
any other Panjshir official to filling the role of overall planning
coordinator, would then brief on both economic priorities and the
"Good Performer" funds for Panjshir. In this vein, the Governor
reiterated his displeasure that the good-performer money has been
stuck in Kabul. He also described how he and other governors made a
successful plea at the highest levels in Kabul to prevent the entire
counter-narcotics budget from going solely to poppy-growing
provinces. Whether true or not, the implication left with the
audience was that the "good performers" had to fight to get their
reward.

8. (SBU) Education: The line director for education provided
information about schools built and schools under construction, as
well as curricula, teacher shortages, teacher training, and NGO
contributions in kind (food, furniture, computers). Several asked
about the inability to attract enough trained teachers. The line
director acknowledged this reality, saying it was true all over
Afghanistan. Religious leaders made standard appeals for more
madrassas in Panjshir - which drew polite if unenthusiastic support
from the audience.

9. (SBU) Health: The generally competent line director for the
Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) was taken to task by many citizens.
Complaints focused on poor staffing, as well as the physical

KABUL 00000623 002 OF 002


condition and open hours of health care resources. Others complained
that an Italian NGO involved in providing medical services was
insensitive to local concerns regarding the treatment of women. The
Governor issued a sharp warning in response, telling his listeners
that the NGO "knows what they're doing. And if we try to stop them
from doing their duties they will stop the service and run the
hospital somewhere else." Panjshir will likely continue for some
time with a hybrid public-health facility arrangement, with some of
its clinics (24 in total) run by the MoPH while the Italian NGO
"Emergency" runs others.

10. (U) Immigration and Returnees: The line director said that
6,700 people who left Panjshir have returned. Noting that Panjshir
has "more mountains than land," he has requested other provinces to
help with Panjshiri returnees. There are 3,000 plots of land in
Parwan province and 2,000 plots in Kapisa province that are
available to Panjshir returnees. For next year, Baghlan (3,000
plots), Balkh (2,000 plots), Kunduz (2,000 plots) and Herat (2,000
plots) will also accept applications.

11. (SBU) MRRD: This line director faced a tough task as he
attempted to explain both what projects have been undertaken by the
National Solidarity Program and the GIRoA, and why it takes so long
for their completion. Unfortunately, his explanations tended to fly
over the heads of his listeners. He also took criticism from fellow
line directors, such as the Education line director who criticized
the slow pace of school construction overseen by MRRD.

PROBLEMS WITH HASHISH AND FRUSTRATIONS WITH KABUL
--------------------------------------------- ----

12. (SBU) In one of the recent meetings, the Governor offered up his
diagnosis of the three threats facing the extension of governance:
terrorism, narcotics, and corruption. The view from Panjshir is
that these three factors are largely absent in the province. The
recent town-meetings did offer an occasional myth-puncturing
episode. Particularly in Khenj district when the discussion turned
to hashish cultivation, with at least one participant asserting that
hashish accounts for up to fifty percent of the district's
agricultural output. (The PRT believes this figure is greatly
exaggerated.) Others called for the eradication of hashish fields,
but the Khenj district chief of police said his men would not do so
for fear of being shot by landowners.

13. (SBU) Throughout his meetings the governor expressed his
frustration at the lack of control over the quality and quantity of
Kabul's interaction with the province. He complained about the
unqualified administrators sent to Panjshir by the central
authorities. Although he might prefer, as any provincial governor
would, to control these appointments himself, he has urged for
greater responsiveness on the part of the Kabul ministries. His
sway with the ministries is less than he would wish, and he has been
unsuccessful at persuading ministers to visit. In the past year,
only Education Minister Atmar has traveled to Panjshir. This may,
in part, be that unlike other governors Bahlul rarely leaves
Panjshir for Kabul (he asserts that he is too poor to travel often
and cannot spend time in the capital waiting in lobbies for
appointments with ministers). Regardless of the reason his lack of
interaction with the central government likely contributes to
Panjshir's perceived lack of attention from Kabul.

WOOD

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