Two years ago I visited the Governor’s media centre in Lashkar Gah to interview some local journalists to get their views on life in Helmand province.
The media centre was a basic, narrow room in Hotel Bost. In the room was an old table with an oilcloth sheet on it. The surroundings were grim, as were the media sitting opposite me:
As reporters we are really pleased with the Taliban, they are really fast at getting information to us,” I was told as fingers were jabbed at me. “People are not happy with the foreign forces,” they said. “Things are getting worse day-by-day.
This year I had a chance to go back and meet many of them again. What a difference. The media centre now has a fully equipped conference facility, which is often filled to capacity, and the media suite frankly would be the envy of many a British government department.
The demeanour of the journalists was, to be honest, still grim, but their views had changed:
In Helmand over the last two years there has been lots of change. The Afghan National Army has improved and there is security over a wide area. If you remember, before, just a few kilometres from the Governor’s office used to belong to the Taliban,” said Mohammed Haroon.
With the government too there have been many improvements. The way it works in Lashkar Gah they now want to do the same in other districts. Because of this, people now make homes here and grow crops, people are even moving here from Kandahar,” said Mr Khanzad.
People are happy about their security and between civilians and the military there has been good co-operation,” he said.
Not everything is perfect of course.
They told me that people in remote villages were still frightened of the insurgents, and corruption in the administrative and judicial systems was a major worry. Although even this concern was balanced:
Because of projects in Marjah and Nad ‘Ali, people see that the government is doing something for them, so they are starting to trust them,” said Haroon.
Attitudes to ISAF were still cool, but a tacit nod was given to their role in having provided a chink of light for the future:
For three decades people come, they fight and then they leave. But now with our security forces improving, if they can be given the equipment and material they need, they will be able to establish security,” said Khanzad.
The journalists were at last able to look at issues other than security:
Now there is less poppy, people grow more wheat, but it is very cheap. If the farmers could export to other places, other countries, they would get better prices and it would be very helpful,” said Noor Ahmad Noori.
That sounds like a good news story.
This article is taken from the September 2011 edition of Defence Focus - the magazine for everyone in Defence.