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Cablegate: Governance in Panjshir - Peeking Under the Hood

VZCZCXRO4402
OO RUEHDBU RUEHPW RUEHSL
DE RUEHBUL #3168/01 2801410
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 071410Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1999
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 003168

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SRAP, SCA/FO, SCA/A, EUR/RPM
STATE PASS USAID FOR ASIA/SCAA
USFOR-A FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL EAID MOPS AF
SUBJECT: GOVERNANCE IN PANJSHIR - PEEKING UNDER THE HOOD

1. (SBU) Summary: The government and people of Panjshir have
firm control of their own security, providing a safe
environment for development and enabling the Provincial
Reconstruction Team (PRT) to undertake $65 million worth of
projects. However, human capacity remains weak. Perceived
neglect by the central government, coupled with Panjshir,s
Mujahadeen culture, stifles the development of modern
institutions and links to Kabul. Bereft of resources and
indigenous expertise, Panjshiris look first to the PRT to
meet their development needs. Governor Bahlol has done a
great deal for the province and for the PRT, but his
leadership style limits the space for competent bureaucrats
to grow. The Panjshir PRT is working closely with the United
Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) on
strategies to support and empower provincial officials so
that they -- not the U.S. -- are setting development
priorities for the province. Panjshirs, unrivaled security
situation makes it an excellent laboratory to try out new
civilian-led approaches aimed at building Afghan governance
and ownership. End Summary.

-----------------------------
PANJSHIR: A SECURITY SUCCESS
-----------------------------

2. (U) It is sometimes easy to forget that Panjshir lies in a
war zone. There are no security barriers to travel within
the valley. Conex shops line the excellent main road, which
has been widened and paved by the PRT. Road construction is
everywhere, and a few modern homes are starting to rise above
the traditional mud dwellings. Girls and boys are being
educated, even in the most remote villages. Afghan National
Police (ANP) checkpoints are rare, and the Afghan National
Army (ANA) has no presence at all, except for a small
recruiting center and a few guards watching MOD weapons
stockpiles. Voters had no difficulty getting to the polls on
August 20, casting their votes in a calm and orderly process.

3. (SBU) Credit for Panjshir,s excellent security situation
goes to the Panjshiris themselves, a proud and insular people
of overwhelmingly Tajik (97 percent) ethnicity. Panjshiris
are proud of their resistance against the Soviets and the
Taliban, and their post-9/11 partnership with U.S. forces to
run the Taliban out of Kabul. This legacy of security
cooperation led to the establishment in 2005 of the unique
Panjshir PRT: civilian-led, with no maneuver element, and
protected by local Mujahadeen guards rather than by a U.S.
security force. Since 2005, security incidents have been
rare, although the PRT did experience an IED/small arms
attack in July. There were no casualties, and four suspects
remain in NDS custody (Note: the tragic deaths earlier this
year of four PRT personnel, including LTC Mark Stratton, took
place in Kapisa, not Panjshir).

----------------------------
GOVERNANCE: THE MISSING LINK
----------------------------

4. (U) Panjshir,s unparalleled security situation has
enabled the PRT to undertake some $65 million in projects
since 2005, including roads, schools, clinics, micro-hydro
power generators, and agriculture. However, the ease of PRT
building comes at a price: Panjshiris expect more from the
PRT than from their own institutions. Locals perceive
(correctly) that the central government has given them
little. Governor Bahlol,s poor relationship with Karzai --
the two have not had a meeting in nearly five years --
contributes to this sense of neglect. Ministers seldom
visit. Meanwhile, the provincial Line Directors suffer from
the usual ailments afflicting their colleagues elsewhere:
weak capacity, few resources, and a lack of influence over
ministry decisions. Unmotivated and short of gas money, few
Line Directors venture far from their offices in the
provincial capital.

5. (SBU) Governance in Panjshir is defined by the province's
Mujahadeen culture. In the run-up to the August 20
elections, some questioned whether former Defense Minister
Marshal Fahim could effectively activate his former
sub-commanders to generate votes for President Karzai, widely
despised in Panjshir, where he captured less than 1 percent
of the vote in 2004. Karzai,s take of nearly 28 percent
this time around -- despite Governor Bahlol,s efforts to
suppress those votes -- suggests Panjshir,s informal
Mujahadeen structures remain largely intact. Abdullah
Abdullah has strong support in Panjshir,s lower districts,
where (the overtly pro-Abdullah) Governor Bahlol served as
top commander in his Mujahadeen days, and whose residents

KABUL 00003168 002 OF 002


still follow his lead.

6. (SBU) Panjshir,s Mujahadeen culture, a sort of "benign
warlordism," benefits security but stifles the acceptance of
national institutions. Across the province, former fighters,
mullahs, and ordinary villagers serve as the eyes and ears of
the ANP and NDS, an informal "neighborhood watch" that makes
Panjshir hostile terrain for would-be troublemakers. ANP
shakedowns do not occur, probably because bad behavior of
this kind would be swiftly corrected by ex-Mujahadeen elders.
The system works and is unlikely to change quickly. For all
of the recent infrastructure improvements, Panjshir remains a
rural subsistence economy. Civil society barely exists, and
young people seeking modern opportunities are quick to leave
for the capital. When Governor Bahlol departs office, he
will likely be replaced by another ex-Mujahadeen -- this time
loyal to Fahim. Moreover, the next Provincial Council may
include several representatives elected solely on the basis
of their Mujahadeen credentials.

7. (SBU) Governor Bahlol has been a strong and effective
leader, but also a domineering presence. An enthusiastic
supporter of the PRT, he has intervened numerous times to
solve problems impeding PRT projects and regularly chastises
Line Directors when they are not doing their jobs. Bahlol,s
priorities for Panjshir -- infrastructure, agriculture and
education -- generally track with our own, and he has shown a
fierce commitment to keeping Panjshir safe and poppy-free.
He is relatively uncorrupt and appears genuinely committed to
the people of the province. Yet he remains a Mujahadeen to
his core, displaying imperfect skills as a manager and
administrator, sucking up most of the political oxygen, and
leaving little room for other officials to grow. To some
extent, his domineering approach to governance absolves the
provincial Line Directors from taking charge of their own
portfolios.

---------------------------------
PRT PANJSHIR: SHIFTING THE FOCUS
---------------------------------

8. (U) Panjshir,s Provincial Development Council (PDC),
chaired by Governor Bahlol, meets regularly and is
well-attended by Line Directors and the small number of NGOs
that operate in the province. However, as an Afghan-led
process, it is yet to reach its full potential. Discussions
are often bloated and unfocused. Participants identify needs
but fail to identify their own roles and responsibilities.
Instead of prioritizing projects, participants approve
whatever comes before them, particularly if the Governor is
interested, and defer serious funding decisions to the PRT.
There is no need for trade-offs, and little if any strategic
planning. Panjshir,s Provincial Development Plan (PDP),
completed in 2007, is out of date and somewhat irrelevant.
Worse, Line Directors fail to coordinate their activities
with one another, through the required sector meetings,
before the PDC meets.

9. (U) PRT Director has been working with UNAMA on strategies
to address these problems and to encourage greater Afghan
ownership in provincial development. At the PRT,s behest,
UNAMA has rolled out a proposal for updating the Provincial
Development Plan this fall, putting local officials squarely
in the lead. Governor Bahlol agrees and the first meeting
occurred on September 28. UNAMA has emphasized the
importance of effective sector meetings, with participation
by all Line Directors, in order to prepare decisions by the
PDC. As a result, PRT personnel now attend every sector
meeting, to encourage coordination and Afghan ownership. PRT
leadership is also engaging intensively with individual Line
Directors, and integrating them into all PRT projects, in
order to support and empower them.

10. (SBU) Comment: After years of successful infrastructure
projects, the time is ripe in Panjshir to focus on human
capacity-building, looking beyond the Governor's office to
build a cadre of bureaucrats who can link the province to
Kabul. "Model" may not be the best word to describe
Panjshir, given that not all of its advantages -- its unique
history, mono-ethnic population, and defensible geography --
can be replicated elsewhere. Panjshir might be thought of
instead as a platform for the projection of stability
outward, and as a natural laboratory to try out new
civilian-led approaches aimed at building good governance and
Afghan ownership. End Comment.
EIKENBERRY

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