OF UNDUE INFLUENCE AND ACCESS |
September 07, 2010
Posting date: 9/7/10
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Last deployment, I had the pleasure of working with two excellent interpreters, both of whom ended up losing their jobs over charges stemming from documented cases of corruption and nefarious double dealings. "Doc" was a portly, German-educated Afghan who understood the value of a good party, and also the value of gathering as much power as possible for himself in his nebulous role as "District Advisor." I have no idea how well he was able to increase his personal prestige due to the status of his position. He understood Afghan law and was a gifted public speaker, so I never had any problems empowering him.
"Dhost" was a clever and capable interpreter-turned-contractor who may or may not have used his influence to capture a near-monopoly on contracting in our portion of RC-East while I was there, but, again, my take on the situation was that he was reliable (he was) and his work was excellent, and he was on call 24-7; it didn't really occur to me to care whether or not contracting was being fulfilled in a perfectly democratic manner, especially given that, at the time, it seemed like most of the contractors who were willing to execute projects were either incompotent, hopelessly corrupt (in the bad, non-productive way), or actively working with the Taliban. Acceptable levels of corruption. I'm probably going to hell.
I had an opportunity to revisit this phenomenon recently, when I went down to the Provincial coordination center, and lasso'd a terp (we'll call him "Dan") into the process. He had not had body armor, and there was none available, so he had to forgo his contract to only depart the wire wearing body armor (on a totally secure mission that our allies run daily with two unarmored vehicles), and leave in the clothes he was wearing. I appreciated his willingness to sacrifice what he perceived to be security in order to help me accomplish my mission, and I told him so.
He immediately began pumping me about projects in his home town. Not surprisingly, he already had an idea for a community-run project (led by him, naturally) to supply his village with electricity. I listened to his idea -- the least I could do, given the sacrifice he'd made on my behalf -- and it actually sounded pretty good, and happened to be in an area where we needed to do projects. I took his project proposal, examined it, found it to fit suitibility, feasibility, and the financial constraints by which we're bound, and brought him to our S-9 for a sitdown chat.
The meeting started out well enough, considering the circumstances. He reiterated his idea to have a generator in the village, operated by himself, and charge the residents money only for fuel to run the generator, based on electricity consumption. We agreed that it was a good idea, and said that we'd forward the project idea on to the Platoon Leader responsible for the area.
He was disappointed. He wanted action immediately. We said that the most we could do for him, really, was to give the project to the battle space owner, and if it was as suitible as Dan claimed, he could expect to see a generator in the near future. He chewed this over, and said it was acceptable (of course it was, it was the only possible course of action). Then he asked about solar panels instead of a generator, saying that it would be better if individual homes could have solar panels; it would not require any action on his part.
This did seem like another possibility, and we said that we'd pass the idea along to the Platoon Leader. He said that he knew someone in Kabul who could get the solar panels, and that the money should go through him. Inside, I began to cringe, seeing now how this was likely to go. After he talked about the wisdom of using him as the purchasing agent -- impossible, of course -- he added that the village could really use a mosque, too.
I stood up, apologized to the S-9 for the imposition, and thanked Dan for interpreting for me when he did not have to. He didn't seem to understand that the meeting was over so he continued talking about the mosque. I put my hand on his shoulder. "That's enough, Dan. We're done here." He looked disappointed.
There's this bottomless greed that you see opening up when a man gets hold of an idea out here. I wish I got to see more of the "Let's build up the country!" and "Afghanistan is great" idea, but for whatever reason it seems to be "I'm going to get as much as I can out of this situation, be it power, money, or prestige, for me." It's either ridiculous or depressing, depending on one's perspective. Personally, now that I have an XO, I'm fairly well insulated from it all. The only time I have to interact with people asking about things is when I talk with my partners about where to build a well. I'm comfortable with that, I've already had to barter too much of my scruples away over the years in exchange for questionable activity in the name of progress.