Afghanistan — Conversations about Corruption & Change

I’m out of my resident camp doing training at a remote site. I’m participating in a reform program designed to bring the Afghan National Police (ANP) up to speed with the Afghan National Army (ANA). A laughable thought.

My task is to give a general logistics class to the policemen of the Districts chosen for training. Later, I will come back and give a more detailed block of instruction to the leaders and logisticians that lasts about two weeks.

Some of our instructors are boring. They dryly read off the screen. No presentation. No personality. Forgettable. Who remembers the things that bore you to sleep. I don’t.

I try to find ways to liven up the classes. I try to include the students in the class. It’s not always easy. Many of them can’t read. We’ll have one or two who can’t speak Dari. They speak Pushto instead. So it becomes difficult to communicate at times. The language barrier is difficult at times. I can understand some Dari. But not a lot. I know no Pushto at all. Well, I know that Sengey (spelling??) means “how are you?” But that’s about it.

During the class, one thing that I like to do is use the Taliban as examples in my instruction. It lets me gauge the spirit of the group. The intent of the group. This groups seems to enjoy the thought of taking the Taliban out. The last group. I got the feeling that I was talking to the Taliban. lol

The last FDD. I just kind of jumped up there and didn’t do a whole lot of interaction. I kept my opinions to myself. I have a lot of opinions. lol Hence this blog. This time. I can’t keep myself closed off. These boys seem smarter. They seem more earnest. They seem to care. The first FDD classes seemed like mad men from the wilds. I actually felt that if I turned my back on them outside of the compound, that I would be impaled or gutted. Probably raped first.

These kids seem like the group of boys we sent over to die in World War I or World War II. They know they are into something. They seem to want to do well. They were polite. They were attentive. They asked good questions.

I couldn’t sit back and just give the same dead answers.

I’m teaching these guys the proper methods and attitudes about logistics. One of them stood up and told me. “This is all good. But this is the way of this academy. It is not the way that things happen down in the districts.” Another stood up and asked me how could he make sure that he was signing the proper documentation when he can’t read. Others related stories of corruption of varying degrees. So I tried to be real with them. I can’t deny that there is major corruption within the ranks of the ANP. It’s there. Just this past month, half of the logistics officers of a major command were jailed or relieved for incompetence or major corruption scandals that involved fuel.

So I told them stories to relate how we did it. How we came to the fore. How the US did away with corruption. How the US military went from a force of misfits and draftees and pervasive corruption to the most lethal and professional miltary force on the planet.

I told them that it would take time. and that it would probably be their children who benefit from it. I told them to learn. To take care of themselves. Then take care of their corner of the world. Work your way out. If your lucky, you can make a small change that will affect the decisions of others. And maybe. Just maybe. If you’re lucky, you can set off a chain of reactions that will take hold. You never know. I told them that it will have to be their generation that makes the change. I told them that some of them will probably be killed because of their honestly. Often times in the history of America those who stood for change were killed. But if you want your people and your country to benefit in the ways that other nations benefit. If they want to live in a society where corruption is not the rule of the day. Unfortunately, those sacrifices are demanded and exacted. Many changes are coming to Afghanistan and the ANP. Now is the time to take advantage of opportunity. Find a way to learn to read and write. Find a way to take advantage of the opportunities that come.

Now, I didn’t use those exact words. Had I spoken like that. Translation would have been near impossible. All of that kind of talk is translated on the fly. I sometimes have to stop and make sure that my Terp knows the meaning of a word.

I’ve started to end my classes by telling them of the US Army and the Korean Army. I’ll tell them that there is hope. The US Army was created in 1776. It did not become the professional fighting force that it is today. It did not evolve into the well oiled machine that it is today until after World War II. It took well over 150 years for the United States Army to become arguably the greatest Army in the history of the World.

Korea. The North attacked the South in 1950. We helped fight the North back into it’s own territory. Then the United States and several other nations stuck around and helped to train the Korean Army and the international community helped to build Korea into the Nation that it is today. That effort took well into the 1980s. Some 30 odd years.

So there is hope. It will take time. But it can be done. It takes the youth of the nation to grow and take charge. Karzai will not be the one to bring Afghanistan into the modern era. Maybe not even the next President or Prime Minister. It will be a collective effort. And it will cost. The youth of Afghanistan must be willing to pay that price.

Most of all, they must teach their children. At all costs. Teach the children.

There is hope. Afghanistan will not change overnight. If it changes, it will come with new generations. As does most change. Some attitudes die hard. Tradition. Dies hard and slow. Tribalism is a centuries old fact of life in Afghanistan. I don’t know if it will ever change or go away altogether. But it must give way to a better way or Afghansitan is doomed to return to the old ways. Even King Zahir Shah saw that Afghanistan needed to move away from the old ways and into the modern era. Let’s hope some of his wisdom was passed on.

One comment on “Afghanistan — Conversations about Corruption & Change

  1. I’m going off on a tangent here, but this story brought Mexico to mind. The border kidnappings and killings in Jaurez and stories of corruption. Likely pales next to the task in Afghanistan, but it made me think of that. Safety to those you worked with who have a sincere desire for change.

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