Western Perceptions

How to sell agricultural lessons. Teachers at Mata Khan boys highschool (Photo: Heimken)

Today, we first drove to Sharana and then on to Mata Khan, a much smaller combat outpost than Sar Howsa. I had fun listening to Frank Sinatra, Black Sabbath and some country tunes on our way over via an iPod connected to the intercom.

Mata Khan is home to the 1st Platoon of Captain Perkins Apache Company 2-28. The country side surrounding it is completely flat, unlike the Sar Howza region. Although it’s only about 15 to 20 kilometers away, the climate feels different too. It’s much warmer, at least 15 degrees Celsius more.

There’s much more arable land here. We drove past some really impressive castle like Qalats, big square compounds with high mud walls and small turrets on each corner. I guess they reflect the mentality of the people living in this region. Everybody who is wealthy enough protects their fortunes out of sight. Their home really is their castle here.

It might be a testament to the fact that there is no centralised authority, called the nation state that has vowed to protect private property and enforce sanctions against people who don’t respect that right. By now there are such institutions in place in Afghanistan, but they are young and not welcome by everyone. The province of Paktika is known for being stubbornly anti-government.

Hate the state

Even in mainstream US politics there are prominent political strands that hate the idea of a powerful centralised state and love the individual’s right to fend for himself. And, in the US you find gated communities of wealthy people who rather opt to protect their wealth by private security than to trust the state to do that for them.

I don’t have a clue what the people here really want (That’s the downside of being embedded, you don’t get to meet the common people a lot). Perhaps many of them would be very happy to have a functioning state that will protect their citizen’ rights. Perhaps they would love an independent judiciary along Western lines that doesn’t know any family, clan, or tribal affiliations.

Shortly after we got here to Mata Khan we visited a boy’s school right next to the compound. Here a Lieutenant Colonel of the reserve Air Force, who is an agricultural adviser based in Sharana, met with the police chief and the governor of Mata Khan district and representatives from the school, the headmaster and some teachers.

Fisherman’s Friend

The plan was to have agricultural classes set up to teach the teachers in giving classes on how to improve agricultural techniques in the area. The simple equation being, that if farmers here improved their yield, they would become more prosperous and less susceptible to the insurgency. Peace through prosperity.

The basic idea is sound. The Western led or financed reconstruction efforts have moved on from just setting up projects like the girls school we visited yesterday without really checking sustainability, to going out and asking what the locals want to be done and then teaching them to help themselves. They shall own their projects.

However, as we witnessed today the problem with this is that the locals are still more interested in having concrete infrastructure projects financed by the Westerners than having contractors teaching them intangible knowledge that doesn’t bear immediate gains.

The officials who had gathered in the boys school either didn’t quite grasp the concept of teaching a man to fish or they simply wanted fast and tangible aid. I have now often heard or read that Afghans after 30 years of war cherish the short term over the long term gain. It sounds simplistic but actually would be quite understandable, because in Afghanistan there still is no peace and security.

This might show in the Afghan’s thinking, especially in the run up to the pull out of foreign troops. If tomorrow isn’t promised you tend to get what you can lay your hands as long as you can. Why plant trees whose fruit might take decades to harvest.

I was wondering yesterday when I saw some unkempt trees that could have been olive plants, why they weren’t growing this fruit in this country. I’m not an agricultural expert, olive trees might just not grow in this climate – or they indeed take to long to carry fruit.

2 thoughts on “Western Perceptions

  1. I like this article because you noticed a fact that everyone else does. “locals are still more interested in having concrete infrastructure projects financed by the Westerners than having contractors teaching them intangible knowledge that doesn’t bear immediate gains.” Maybe is this that frustrate young people that come to this place to help. Making the expression, “You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks!” true.

    • True dat. I think we would be opting for the same thing if we were in their shoes. We too, often forget knowledge goes a long way, much longer than any short term material gain. …

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