While other districts in Logar province develop, Kharwar still doesn't have a single female doctor or a school for girls, not to mention roads, clinics, job opportunities or security. Our contributor reports on a
A ragged township of crumbling mud-walled houses that look like they have been hit by a flashflood rises up between the mountains of the Hindu Kush and the surrounding desert. Rabid dogs outnumber people in the dusty roads between makeshift stores: There's not a car in sight, not a single asphalted road, although Taliban insurgents are well nested among local residents.
Welcome to Kharwar, one of six districts in Logar province, 52-kilometres from the provincial capital Pul-e Alam yet several decades behind in terms of development. “There is no security in the district because the people are ignored, they don’t have schools, they don’t have hospitals, roads or electricity, and this is the reason they are discontent with the government,” says Niaz Mohammad Amir, the newly-appointed governor of Logar.
A crumbling house in Kharwar
The lack of security accounts for the lack of development, say local officials, because the 60 police officers stationed in the district are ringfenced by insurgents and are unable to ensure stability beyond the outer limits of the village centre.
Ignored by progress
Health and education services are moribund in the district, with only a handful of makeshift schools and clinics staffed by underqualified teachers and doctors at the disposal of local residents. According to the head of the provincial department of education, more than 100 teachers are serving in 12 government schools in the district, with more than 3000 students enrolled in primary, secondary or religious education. “At least two hundred students are girls,” says Mohammad Shahpoor Arab, head of the Logar Education Directorate.
Local residents however contest Arab's figures. “How can they talk about a hundred teachers?” says Peer Mohammad, a local shopkeeper. “I have not seen 12 schools in this district,” he adds, estimating that not more than 1000 children in the whole district are enrolled in school. Juma Gull, a Kharwar elder, says the state of health facilities in the district is even worse. “Only a small number of doctors - who are not professionally trained -work in this district. The district has a large population and our health problems cannot be solved by just a small number of doctors, who are actually doctors only by name,” added the elder. According to the provincial director of health, five doctors operate four clinics that serve the whole district. Nake Mohammad, another elder resident of Kharwar, says the lack of doctors means health services however are only available to the highest bidder. According to Mohammad, basic treatment can cost up to 15 times more in Kharwar than in other districts. Having a tooth removed, for example, costs 10,000 Pakistani rupees (98 US dollars)in Kharwar, whereas in surrounding districts the same service would only cost 600 rupees (6 US dollars).
Health authorities are aware of the disproportionate price local residents pay for basic health treatment but blame insecurity in the district. “I acknowledge that extracting a tooth in Kharwar district costs 10000 Rupees,” says Mohammad Zarif Nayebkhiel, head of the provincial health department. “But the main problem is insecurity, and as a result doctors are not willing to take assignments or work in the district.” Women in particular are overlooked as “there is no female doctors in the entire district,” according to Nayebkhiel.
The district's high illiteracy rates, limited employment opportunities and lack of basic living needs can be explained by its geography, say analysts. Nevertheless, experts warn that without a concerted effort to address the social ills in the district, the security situation will get worse.
“If the government wishes to bring security to the region, it should provide employment opportunities for people,” Arifullah Haqparast, a political analyst, told Afghanistan Today, adding that brain-drain only contributes to the district's vicious cycle of underdevelopment.
Same sinking boat
Kharwar's plight has a contagious effect on nearby settlements too. “Kharwar shares a border with Paktia province, and its insecurity and underdevelopment has had a spillover effect on its neighboring districts. Zurmat district, in Paktia, shares a border with Kharwar and the living conditions of residents in this district are very similar to the living conditions of people in Kharwar,” says Khaled Ahmad Habib, a professor of journalism and sociology at Paktia University. Habib argues that only a concerted effort by the national and provincial government – in conjunction with donor agencies – to build basic infrastructure can lift the district out of the quagmire of poverty.
Meanwhile, many residents travel across the border to Pakistan to access basic services, while others cross to volatile neighbouring Afghan provinces such as Paktia and Ghazni, traveling on dangerous roads at the mercy of Taliban roadblocks and attacks. Senior officials in the provincial government acknowledge that the district has been overlooked in the last decade, but accuse local residents of supporting the Taliban, which in turn undermines government efforts to create basic services. One local elder says residents have lost hope in the government.
“There are no doctors, no teachers, no security, roads and streets are not asphalted - What should we be hopeful for?” laments Nake Mohammad.