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Catriona Laing

Catriona Laing

British Ambassador to Zimbabwe

Part of UK in Afghanistan

14th September 2013 Harare, Zimbabwe

My Final Blog as Head of the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team

Eighteen months ago I flew into Helmand Province pondering on what lay ahead for me. I was excited and daunted at the same time. I knew then that it would be a life changing experience and so it has proved to be. It has been challenging, inspiring, fun, and of course frustrating at times – but persistence has paid off and all the hard work has delivered concrete results.

During my time as Head of Mission of the Provincial Reconstruction Team I have worked alongside Afghan, British, US, Estonian and Danish colleagues; both military and civilian. Our focus has been on encouraging the Afghans to take the lead on building sustainable and functioning government structures, with training, mentoring and advising support from the PRT. I am pleased to see that my Afghan counterparts are firmly in the driving seat. Our job now is to continue to offer support and guidance to the Helmand Provincial Government.

There has been substantial progress in Helmand. We have worked hard to establish accountable governance and to the rebuild the trust of the local population in their government. Helmandis are now more involved than ever in choosing who represents them: over 40,000 people have voted in local elections, selecting 300 councillors to speak for ordinary people at the local level.

There have been strong gains in bridging the gap between traditional village level justice and the formal justice system: the PRT has pioneered courses in Community Based Dispute Resolution for village elders and worked closely with local prosecutors and judges. PRT police mentors have coached Afghan police colleagues and have built a professional, effective and increasingly respected police force in Helmand.

Helmandis now have access to essential services across the province: schools are open with rising levels of attendance, including female students. The PRT has established health care centres across Helmand which over 80% of the population can access and are now supported by the Afghan health authorities.

It’s heartening to see the sustainment of the gains that the PRT has achieved and to know that this good work is now in the capable hands of our Afghan partners. My successor, Belinda Lewis, will oversee the closure of the PRT and the final transition of PRT projects to Afghan control.

I’ll be sad to leave Helmand for the last time this week, but I look back on the last eighteen months with pride, fond memories and the knowledge that Helmand has come a long way with the support of the PRT.

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.