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Submitted by Dennis Gallagher on
Just returned from two long assignments in Afghanistan and have worked in and around Afghanistan since the "refugee" days. I agree that the role of expats has changed and should have changed. In earlier times I spent much time in the "field". In these recent assignments I have not. This was deliberate not because of fear about security conditions or lack of interest to "get out there" but because it is time for foreigners to be more in the background and in support roles to Afghans. In my last assignment I had a staff of 300 plus working in more than 20 provinces and 100 districts. I was the only expat on the staff and I limited the role of outside "experts" to short and targeted assignments. Afghans cannot be led out of their problems but must lead themselves, can be supported in this regard and appreciate that support. It is especially important that Afghans see their government as relating to their interests and needs. The National Solidarity Program, in my view the most effective of efforts to connect with and support communities, is not understood by many to be, as it is, a program of the Afghan government but rather of the "facilitating partners" that support the program in the field, almost all of which are expat run organizations. It is not just Afghan individuals/staff who need to be pushed forward but the Afghan institutions (governmental and nongovernmental). In many cases these Afghan entities are weak and even corrupt but strengthening the capacity of not just Afghans but Afghan institutions to address the country's and people's problems is essential.