Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Kiwi legacy clear after conflict

A fragile peace is in place as forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

Provincial Governor Habiba Sarobi, at the podium, says Kiwi troops have changed the face of Bamiyan. Photo / NZ Defence Force
Provincial Governor Habiba Sarobi, at the podium, says Kiwi troops have changed the face of Bamiyan. Photo / NZ Defence Force

A convoy of heavily armoured military vehicles nearly 1km long yesterday stopped outside the site where two gigantic 6th-century Buddha statues once loomed above a Bamiyan township. The Taleban destroyed the famous Buddhas in 2001.

Soldiers holding RPGs and high-powered machine guns posed for waiting media, intending to show that Afghanistan's security forces are now capable of protecting the region on their own - and from their own.

The New Zealand-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), which has been central to providing security and development in Bamiyan for the past 10 years, will leave for good by the end of this month.

With the withdrawal of US and international forces, the people of Bamiyan have only other Afghans to blame for any continuing tension.

A group of New Zealand dignitaries, including Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae and Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman, travelled to Bamiyan this week to see what will be left behind.

Afghan and New Zealand authorities have been at pains to assure that the province will continue on its track to peace and prosperity after the transition.

Yet the abundance of armed personnel on nearly every street corner in town suggests the peace is fragile.

The province remains one of the poorest and least productive in the country - its 500,000 residents largely live hand-to-mouth.

Provincial Governor Habiba Sarobi, whom the New Zealand Government and others have lauded for her inspirational and progressive leadership, told media the Kiwi-led PRT had "changed the face of Bamiyan" in the past 10 years.

She had previously requested the PRT stay past this month's deadline, but she acknowledged that 10 years was a long time and that the Afghan people must go on without them.

Sarobi was confident Bamiyan would remain one of the safest regions in Afghanistan.

"The main reason is we have the support of the people. For this reason we do have this hope."

There is no permanent Afghan National Army presence in Bamiyan - a concern raised by provincial police chief General Abdul Razak - and the local police force has taken on a paramilitary-style role as the first line of defence.

New Zealand police Commissioner Peter Marshall said the Afghan police, whom the PRT trained from 2005 until the end of last year, had married this approach with traditional policing, and were now self-sufficient.

"They have been brought to a standard which is appropriate, given the environment."

He stressed that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was only 45 minutes' flight away should they need extra assistance.

Two years ago the PRT's general focus switched from security to development and the training of Afghan forces in the lead-up to this month's transition.

Since then more than $80 million has been spent building infrastructure, education and health services in the region.

Key projects have included a solar energy plant that will eventually generate electricity for 2500 homes and businesses, and an agriculture support project, which has provided 64 tractors to the region's farmers to replace their ploughs, vastly improving crop yield.

The PRT has also helped set up health clinics in all seven of Bamiyan's districts and rebuilt Bamiyan University.

Speaking after the opening of a PRT-built dormitory for trainee teachers, Sir Jerry said New Zealand's relationship with the province would endure and cited New Zealand's continued links with Turkey nearly 100 years after Gallipoli.

"If you look around Bamiyan and what is happening here now it is an example of how Afghanistan can be," Sir Jerry said.

"New Zealand has left a legacy we can all be proud of."

With ISAF's mission in Afghanistan to cease and general elections to be held, that legacy will be put to the test next year.

- APNZ

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