Afghan Government Gathers In Bamiyan Province

The Afghan government did something unprecedented this past weekend; it left the capital Kabul. About half of the Cabinet ministers traveled to the remote capital of Bamiyan province to spend three days planning for this summer's donor conference. But when they went to leave, an angry crowd threw stones at the delegation.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Now to Afghanistan, where the government did something unprecedented this past weekend. It left the capital, Kabul. About half the cabinet ministers traveled to the remote province of Bamiyan and spent three days planning for a donor conference this summer. The local governor said this trip demonstrated that the central government was concerned about the rural population. But, not everyone welcomed them with open arms - as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Bamiyan is one of the most peaceful provinces in Afghanistan, tucked away in the mountains with a homogenous population of mostly ethnic Hazaras. Terrible roads leave the province cut off, in many ways, from Kabul. That has its pros and cons, according to the government ministers who made their retreat here.

Mr. ZARAR MOQBEL (Minister for Counter-Narcotics): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Zarar Moqbel is minster for Counter-Narcotics.

Mr. MOQBEL: (Through Translator) It's a huge difference, because you leave a busy environment in Kabul and come here and concentrate on long-term development and the future of this country. And also, the people of this province has a lot of expectations from the central government, so itself conveys a very strong message to the people.

LAWRENCE: The ministers were hoping to send another message to the international donors expected attend the conference this July in Kabul.

Asif Rahimi is minister of Agriculture.

Mr. ASIF RAHIMI (Minister of Agriculture): The Kabul conference, we talk about Afghanistan long-term development, investment in the country so that Afghanistan's economy will grow and Afghanistan will be in the seat of, you know, being under the patronage of the international community - be a partner of the international community in the future.

LAWRENCE: That may be a hard sell to international donors facing a financial crisis of their own, and with the Afghan government, ranking as one of the world's most corrupt.

But the ministers who went to Bamiyan are technocrats and they're Afghanistan's best hope, says U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who attended the last day of the meetings.

Ambassador KARL EIKENBERRY (U.S. Ambassador, Afghanistan): They brought the ministers here to talk about the Kabul conference, a very sophisticated dialogue that's gone on here for the last three days. Discussions of a very ambitious reform agenda, knowing that in order to encourage developmental assistance, they have to be accountable themselves.

LAWRENCE: The final event was a lunch held for a few dozen of the community elders, hosted by Bamiyan's governor, Habiba Surabi. Surabi is Afghanistan's only woman governor, and she has a reputation as one of the most effective. She thanked the Cabinet for coming out to see Bamiyan's economic hardship for themselves.

Governor HABIBA SURABI (Bamiyan, Afghanistan): Seeing is believing, to see the achievement, the challenges and the difficulties here in Bamiyan. So we are very, very happy and proud that they will be able to get the member of Cabinet here.

LAWRENCE: The cabinet ministers ended the meeting with a round of speeches, with promises of more economic aid for Bamiyan, prompting applause from the elders.

(Soundbite of applause)

LAWRENCE: But not everyone in Bamiyan gave the ministers such a warm sendoff. As they tried to drive from the luncheon back to the airport, an angry crowd of protestors blocked the road. When the convoy pushed through, the crowd threw stones.

Governor Surabi asked the crowd to select a representative to meet, she said, but the protestors declined.

Gov. SURABI: They didn't listen to anyone, to me and to the chief of police.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: With the hour getting late, the protestors still stood between the airport and the visiting U.S. ambassador, and no one wanted to see what would happen if he drove through. Instead, he and his entourage scrambled down a steep hill, where an alternate route took them to the airport.

(Soundbite of gravel)

LAWRENCE: Several Afghan and American sources speculated that the protests were not what they seemed. Governor Surabi's success in Bamiyan is threatening the power of the Hazara warlord who used to run the province, Karim Khalili. Khalili is now vice president in Kabul, but he's said to be very jealous of his influence back in Bamiyan, and he may have instigated the protest.

(Soundbite of car engine)

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

LAWRENCE: As the American delegation jumped into Afghan police cars, it seemed an apt reminder that for all of the technocrats making solid plans for Afghanistan's future, there are still many who would rather see those plans fail than lose their positions in Afghanistan's former order.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

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