Catriona Laing

Catriona Laing

British Ambassador to Zimbabwe

Part of UK in Afghanistan

1st July 2012 Harare, Zimbabwe

Digging Deep

In the run up to the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan I have invited members of the PRT to use my blog to talk about their work.

The first has been written by Mary Thida-Lun from the PRT’s Socio-Economic Development Team


Why do those last 10 seconds on the treadmill always stretch out for an eternity? Throughout my 7 month posting to Helmand my morning runs have provided a quiet moment of reflection in this intense, 24/7, civil-military working environment. I wondered why the last few weeks have felt harder than the first 6 months combined. A ticking clock is guaranteed to focus the mind, but can also make the task at hand feel overwhelming. So, as I wearily plodded towards the end of my last gym session and contemplated this blog, I was reminded of the 80:20 saying, “it generally takes 20% of your energy to achieve 80% of your objective, but then 80% to conclude that last 20%”.

As I prepare to depart, there is a palpable sense of the team collectively glaring at a metaphorical 10 seconds for Afghanistan. All Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), like this civil-military platform I’ve been based on, will close by the end of 2014. I had a unique twinge of finality jumping on my last helicopter journey out of here, watching the bustling city of Lashkar Gah shrink away in the distance, knowing that I will never return to this office. The end of 2014 will also see the completion of the security transition from Coalition forces to Afghan National Security Forces. After over 10 years of combat, the next couple of years represent those last metaphorical 10 seconds. The Chicago Conference, Tokyo Conference, US/Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement and the UK Enduring Partnership Agreement embody a collective surge towards the 2014 finish line and beyond.

Not only are we all digging deep to push for those last 10 seconds in the sprint to 2014, but we are also shifting our gameplan for the marathon ahead of us. 2014-2025 has been heralded by the Afghan Government as the ‘Transformation Decade’ – a term coined to capture the vision for the 10 years immediately after transition, in which Afghanistan’s platform for self-reliance, prosperity, stability and peace will be established. The UK Government is committed for the longhaul, but most importantly we are increasingly handing over the baton to our Afghan partners and enabling them to take the lead in this race. I for one will remain an avid spectator.

One particular memory that will stay with me is of a visit to a school in Nahr-e-Saraj. The children had walked 4km to get to the school – the security situation would have rendered this unthinkable just a year ago. The children were being taught under basic conditions, sat on the ground in the open air, while the school build in the neighbouring compound was nearing completion. Basic conditions aside, it was heartening to see a thirst for learning in such large numbers. This is a prime example of UK aid helping Afghans to lift themselves out of poverty. As a second generation refugee who had the good fortune of receiving a decent education myself, this is a subject very close to my heart. During the Taliban regime only about 1 million children attended school, almost none of them girls. Today, 5.8 million children are now going to school, 2.2 million of them girls. When you see tangible progress like this, it’s not hard to draw upon your reserves and really make every second count and have faith that there will be real cause for celebration at the end of this marathon.

1 comment on “Digging Deep

  1. Really interesting post. Lets hope that programmes such as EMIS continue to make a positive impact on the education system in Afghanistan both during and beyond the transitional period.

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About Catriona Laing

I was born in Cardiff but brought up in South London. I studied economics and joined the civil service through the Government Economic Service after 2.5 years working for the…

I was born in Cardiff but brought up in South London. I studied
economics and joined the civil service through the Government Economic
Service after 2.5 years working for the Government of Botswana as an
infrastructure economist.
I was posted to Kenya to advise on the government’s development
programmes in East Africa, and then seconded to the United Nations
Mission in Somalia heading the UN Development Office.
I spent five years working for Prime Minister Tony Blair in his
strategy unit, and was later posted to head the DFID office in Sudan
running a £116 million programme and addressing the drivers of conflict.
Most recently I have been working for the Ministry of Justice to
establish the new international function with responsibility for
European and international justice.
I live with my partner – Clive Bates and our Sudanese dog – in
Balham. My hobbies are yoga, dog and mountain walking and cooking.