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Question time for Afghan district governor

Security concerns are thwarting efforts to rebuild in the Afghan province of Uruzgan. The region has been badly scarred by years of unrest. BBC Pashto's Ahmad Omid Khpalwak travelled there after a recent drop in violence.

Ahmad Omid Khpalwak recording in Dherawad, Afghanistan
The BBC reporter (centre) prepares for a special programme with the governor

It took me five long hours to travel just 65 km (40 miles) on a bone-jarring unpaved roads to get from Tirin Kot to Dehrawad.

High up in the mountains on the banks of the Helmand river, it is one of the three main settlements in Afghanistan's remote, beautiful but dangerous Uruzgan province.

The reason for my gruelling trip was to meet the district's local governor, Saeed Osman Sadaat, and to record a special Question Time programme with him and local people for the BBC's Pashto service.

It is not very often that the BBC hears from this part of Afghanistan, a lot of which was run by the Taliban until last year, when they were largely driven out by Dutch troops with the help of local people.

Map

But sporadic acts of violence still occur and serve as a reminder that the Taliban have not completely gone away.

On the day of President Karzai's inauguration last month a suicide bomber blew himself up in the town bazaar, killing 10 people and injuring 30.

Despite this, the area is more peaceful and people want to see real change.

Crowds gathered in a local bazaar for the BBC recording with the governor.

Stalls were piled high with fruit and vegetables. Young men in sparkly skull caps, old men in turbans, and children giggled at the unusual sight of a BBC reporter with a big microphone standing in their midst.

The debate

For most people this was the first time they had seen their governor face to face, let alone got a chance to try and get some answers from him.

During the programme the governor was inundated with questions, not about security, but about the lack of development.

"Why has a proper road still not been built to link Dehrawad to the provincial capital Tirin Kot despite government promises?" someone asked.

Governor Sadaat said construction work had been held up by the recent presidential elections.

The crowd seemed unconvinced by the answer, but it does highlight a serious dilemma in Afghanistan.

Although this region is more stable, the security situation remains volatile and it is simply too dangerous to deploy people to do the job.

Mohammad Aslam, a student, wanted to know why there were "so few good teachers at local schools".

The governor said he recognised it was a problem. "Teachers from other parts of the country were not willing to come and work in this dangerous and out-of-the-way area," he said.

Shortages

Then a softly-spoken bearded man asked "what the authorities were planning to do to improve irrigation in Dehrawad, and will they be building a much needed dam?"

Nobody is helping us with diesel costs. Not the government, not the NGOs, no-one
Saeed Osman Sadaat
District local governor

"You are in charge here," the man added.

"I am asking you to work on our irrigation problem. Who else can I ask?"

This area relies on agriculture for much of its income and a lack of water poses huge problems.

But the governor was blunt. "There is no money," he said flatly.

At this point a local tailor intervened to raise another concern. The cost of electricity, he said, "is too high".

Governor Sadaat explained that things would be much worse if a local businessman was not paying for the diesel to keep the generator running.

"Nobody [else] is helping us with diesel costs. Not the government, not the NGOs, no-one," he admitted.

No hope

The people who took part in the programme represent just a fraction of the overall population.

But their questions will be familiar to many and they get right to the heart of the problem in Afghanistan.

The Governor's compound
The governor's compound is protected by high walls and a big gate

People in Dehrawad survive on next to nothing, and they are desperate for change.

But it is not happening because of a lack of security which seriously hampers development.

There are also few proper channels through which to spend aid money effectively.

People have paid a heavy price in this region which was once at the frontline of the fighting between the Taliban and US-led coalition forces.

Many are anxious not to return to the violence of the past.

But the longer people wait for change that does not come, the more they lose hope.

As hope fades and they begin to look elsewhere for solutions, the prospects for the Taliban begin to look a little brighter.



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