I have been following Daikundi since 2008 after the deployment of Afghanistan's first female mayor in Nilli. Many of us in civil society and women groups struggled hard to get her required resources to prove her as the right choice, but we failed to receive tangible international support in the form of concrete projects.
I went to Daikundi for the first time in early March 2011. Though, the trip was for work purposes, the realities I witnessed there should be communicated to the society at large and especially to those who are engaged in the ‘community development' and ‘poverty reduction' projects in Afghanistan with millions of dollars.
While planning for the trip, I was advised to take food from Kabul since there are no markets in Nili, nor there are any stocks of food so in case the chopper doesn't come as planned, one should have some food to survive. Initially, I did not trust the advice, and questioned how thousands of Afghans living there survive on daily basis. The response from some of the ‘development practitioners' was very simple. Daikundi is basically a secure place and there is no insurgency and one of the two provinces in the country that does not have any PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams). Therefore, it doesn't get aid as does its border province, Uruzgan for its insurgency and armed conflict ongoing.
After landing in Nilli, the mountain-locked district of Daikundi, I couldn't witness the presence of human beings around so thought maybe it's a very small community of around a hundred people. But as made my way through the snow and mud towards the city, saw small houses on peaks of the hills and spotted human heads around those houses. I don't know if it would be fair to call those mud shells as houses, made of four walls and covered by snow. According to the Provincial Governor's Office and its members of parliament, Daikundi has around 800,000 population.
They have no water, as the water level is too low and some people with better access use grenades to dig wells for water. It would be interesting to find out how those 'some' get grenades while there is'nt any obvious form of insurgency there. Daikundi is bordered by Uruzgan, and used to be a district of Uruzgan until it was delcared as a province recently.
People almost dream of electricity and a market of 5 shops for thousands of Nilli residents would be lucky if the shopkeepers can travel for days to get to a larger market in surrounding provinces for basic survival stuff.
While on my way to Department of Women's Affairs, saw small children around age of 4 or 5 stuck in the snow and mud while another child of 7 or 8 was pulling him/her out of the mud. This is the main road of the Nilli city, which is the centre. But it shouldn't be called a road, it's only a direction and if any adult can take themselves out of the mud , they should be awarded for courage and dedication- why to even think about small children?
Inside the Department of Women's Affairs, met a young girl around 9, crying so badly that couldn't help but to go to her and ask why. This was Amina, whose mother had passed away a couple of days before while delivering her 8th child. I asked Amina whether her mother died in the clinic. She suddenly stopped crying and stared as if I had asked her a puzzle. The elder girl who had accompanied Amina laughed out of sarcasm and didn't even respond. After asking a couple of other women, found out that there is a clinic but with almost no female staff, forget about female doctor- and they said in this mud and snow, a pregnant woman would anyway die on the way to clinic which takes around 8 hours from her village.
These are some of the very basic miseries, I won't even detail out the lack of access to education and other basic services as they become secondary to the dire need of struggling to remain alive in Daikundi.
The politics of international development aid in Afghanistan becomes clearer when one visits the most remote and most vulnerable communities of the country - aid for insurgency or insurgency for aid. What are the incentives for peace? While millions of dollars are poured into provinces plagued with violence and conflict, why don't provinces like Daikundi get attention to prove itself a real model for development and reducing poverty? And the Afghanistan Peace and Re-integration Programme with millions of dollars from foreign aid provides incentives of war to insurgents, is another certification of a policy that would eventually drive the young men from Daikundi to join insurgents and militants fighting in its surrounding provinces of Uruzgan, Ghazni, Zabul and Helmand.
"If the international aid is another parallel to counter-insurgency, then why to even name it international development aid", said a couple of young graduates who returned to Daikundi after completing their graduation at Kabul University. They said, "When we returned back, we used to encourage young boys and girls to study and get educated. But having been lost in poverty, we forget about education. It's only about a struggle to be able to remain alive each day, what happens tomorrow, we don't know".