COMBAT OUTPOST JAKER, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
His days end late in the evenings and begin well before sunrise. While most in Nawa are still sleeping soundly in their beds, he is already awake preparing for another seemingly endless day.
District Governor Abdul Manaf, unquestionably the busiest man in Nawa, sees each day as an opportunity to make history and another chance to help his people.
Manaf was appointed to his current position almost two and a half years ago. He arrived in Nawa when there was little to no security in place, the district center was destroyed by years of war with insurgents, and a constant barrage of violence was directed toward himself, local civilians and coalition forces.
Opium growth and drug use was rampant among the population and most government officials were corrupt. Manaf immediately took the reigns and has led a relentless campaign t to improve the quality of life for his people.
He is not an armchair politician by any stretch of the imagination.
Manaf has each day planned out, filling the daylight hours with a flurry of activity and handling his administrative duties at night. One of his preferred methods of engagement is to bring his message directly to the people, face to face. Almost every other day he is traveling throughout his district conducting shura after shura.
At one of his most recent gatherings at Patrol Base Loy Kolay, Manaf highlighted plans for Nawa’s future, emphasizing his enduring objectives of “PPES” – peace, poppy eradication, education and security.
During the shura the governor spoke of the dangers of poppy, urging those in attendance not to grow the controversial plant because the people are getting sick. He spoke about education becoming more readily available for all the people of Nawa, including his dream of making available to both men and women.
As is the case at nearly every shura he holds, Manaf discussed the Afghan Local Police. He encouraged local residents to register with the ALP to take responsibility for the security of their own villages. , He ended his remarks with words of peace, “even for people who are rebels and are against governance, they can come and have peace here among themselves.”
Manaf’s efforts are genuine. He knows his people need to hear what their governor has planned for their district. He attempts to reach as much of the population a possible through a radio program operated out of Combat Outpost Jaker.
“District Governor Manaf will come to the RIAB (Radio in a Box) station for his weekly call-in show in order to broadcast any messages he wants to be heard by the people of Nawa. The four topics he usually addresses are poppy eradication, reintegration for insurgents into society, increases in educational programs such as student/teacher attendance rates, and increasing recruitment for the ALP,” said Specialist Michael Mansour, Psychological Operations Specialist with the 350th PsyOps Company here. “After he broadcasts his message, the DG usually fields an array of callers. These callers cover those within and beyond the borders of Nawa’s district lines.”
Mansour said the calls range from praises for the hard work of the governor, to asking him questions and seeking advice or assistance with personal situations.
“Other callers may request interpretations or descriptions of laws, or even to wage complaints or grievances they have towards government/ANSF (Afghan National Security Force) officials or actions,” said Mansour, a native of Twinsburg, Ohio. “In an environment with low literacy rates, limited print capabilities, limited TV, and limited internet usage, a radio broadcast acts as the strongest method to spread information. Just like FDR’s fireside chats, speaking over the radio allows each resident of Nawa that is unable to attend any local shura or to come to the district center, to hear DG Manaf speak and to hear what information is being put out by their local government.”
Manaf feels that the radio broadcast program is one of his most beneficial tools in his toolkit.
“I am so happy about this program,” he said. “This is another way for the people to contact me so I can help solve them (issues or problems), and if I cannot solve the problem myself, then I relay it to the correct departments which are responsible.”
But even this method won’t reach 100 percent of the population. Manaf understands this and presses forward with his mission, projecting messages over loudspeakers at the local mosques and hanging inspirational literature and posters around the villages and towns. He remains persistent in his goal to help his entire community.
One reason Manaf believes he has been successful in establishing change in Nawa is because he tries to project himself as a good example for others. He practices what he preaches. Even with his busy schedule, the governor makes time for furthering his education, a habit he hopes others will imitate.
“Every morning from six to eight I have a computer class, and I am now trying to establish a steady English class,” he explained. “Whenever I have an interview with the people at shuras or on the radio I tell them that until I am too old I will continue to get further education, but for them it is still not too late.”
Furthering education, among other things, is a decision the people of Nawa have to make for themselves. Manaf can only offer encouragement. His positive, upbeat attitude about his job and improving conditions in the district are infectious.
“I am so happy about my job and my position,” he said. “I could talk about this all day and never finish.”
Manaf has big ideas for Nawa, and while listening to the way he describes his visions of the “Future Nawa” one might be reminded of some picturesque, distant land found only in books or on film.
“I want to encourage everyone here to go out and get an education so we can bring stability, both men and women,” he explained. “I want to bring peace and security for the entire district of Nawa so that people will come from around the world to see Nawa. One day, Nawa will be a beautiful place that people will want to come and see.”
Moving forward, the future of Nawa is in the hands of its people. Manaf firmly believes the district can continue its remarkable progress, but he knows he can’t do it alone.