Catriona Laing

Catriona Laing

British Ambassador to Zimbabwe

Part of UK in Afghanistan

2nd June 2013 Harare, Zimbabwe

British Ambassador Visits Nad-e Ali District

British Ambassador meets District Governor of Nad-e Ali
British Ambassador meets District Governor of Nad-e Ali
British Ambassador meets District Governor of Nad-e Ali

I accompanied my Ambassador Sir Richard Stagg on a visit to Nad-e Ali District in Helmand Province on Thursday 30th May.

Arriving at Forward Operating Base Shawqat we were warmly welcomed by the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Neil Unsworth OBE and staff of 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, who delivered a very positive ‘lie of the land’ District brief.

He illustrated progress through the eyes of soldiers from the Regiment who had been on tour over 3 years previously and had returned for this tour in March. On their last tour they were engaged in a highly kinetic fight and looked out on a local bazaar that was totally empty. On return for this tour they were delighted to see the bazaar now thriving with life.

After donning body armour again in the searing 40 degree plus sun, we foot-patrolled over to the District Governor’s compound, past the ancient fortified walls of the fortress built by the British in the 1800s during Britain’s earlier involvement in Afghanistan.

We were hosted by Nad-e Ali’s District Governor, Mohammad Ibrahim, who briefed on the latest situation in the District. This included the youth employment opportunities and alternative livelihoods projects in place of poppy production and reaching out to people living in the desert (Dashte) areas to connect them better with government.

The District Governor, who is young at 29 but very well respected, recognised that government has to earn people’s trust through delivering on their promises if they are to engage the relatively few now who might still turn to the Taliban. He also spoke of his strong relationship with the District Chief of Police – a key relationship if security and governance are to go hand in hand.

Whilst summer in Nad-e Ali will no doubt be a challenge for the authorities in Nad-e Ali, Governor Ibrahim highlighted the time when the Government could not offer the people tangible services, when sometimes the Taleban could. He contrasted that to now, when it is the Government providing services including education and security, and the provision of justice.

This was the Ambassador’s first visit to Nad-e Ali for several months and he was able to see the very tangible progress that has been made even in that short time.

The recent Nad-e Ali voter registration for its District Community Council (DCC) elections shows how far things have come. When the Council was first established three years ago only 800 people registered to vote. This time over 6,800 from all over Nad-e Ali registered, which suggests that this DCC election, scheduled to take place in the third week of June, is likely to be the biggest DCC election held to date.

We were told by the Council elder of the previous Council, Moalem Shear Agha, that another 4,000 would have registered had the registration period lasted longer.

Another indicator of the success of the elections is that three years ago, when the last DCC election was held, there were areas in the north of Nad-e Ali that were not represented on the council because they were too insecure. Large numbers of people from these previously insecure areas have registered this time making the council more representative of the district as a whole.

By way of illustration, a Kopak Elder made a specific point of asking the Independent Directorate of Local Governance if Kopak residents could register early. This will be the first time this previously disenfranchised area has wanted to be part of local government.

At the audience with the District Governor, Moalem Shear Agha explained that Councillors must demonstrate they have represented their people well if they are to be re-elected. This explains why Councillors need to keep the pressure on the District Administration to deliver the services that people want.

After another quick foot patrol under an Afghan midday sun we were then met and hosted by the District Chief of Police, Haji Omer Jan. He spoke of the improved capabilities of the police force in the District. The District Chief of Police then presented the Ambassador and me with Afghan Medals which we will treasure. This unofficial mini ceremony finished off a very encouraging visit to Nad-e Ali.

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.