The driver picked Steve and me up at the usual time and mentioned “I am resigned.” I was just verifying whether this was in the passive or active tense (had he resigned from the job or was he asked to resign) when it dawned on me that this was the first batch of people who had received their ‘termination’ letters – a 30-day notice requirement under Afghan labor law. We have to give these notices because our project extension has not been formalized by the US government and the current ending date is September 30, 2011.

And so the close out has started to become real. I too will receive my notice, next week. In my case the giving notice and receiving notice adds up to the same thing, with a probably departure date around September 11. It’s a fitting day to leave Afghanistan I think, reminding me why I was here in the first place but also that the ripples of that day have not faded away. On the contrary, here the dust clouds of that event have still not cleared. An extraordinary documentary about Osama Bin Laden that I watched on AlJezeera (English) this morning had the same message.

Despite all our communications with our staff that these notifications are formalities – we can’t quite believe that the doomsday scenario of a total project closure is really what the US government wants – having the letters in their hands made many people nervous and suspicious (why me and not him?) as some people got their notice today and others will get them in two weeks. Deep ethnic rifts and other rivalries instantly rose to the surface.

We, the senior staff, try to explain that a project as large as ours cannot be closed in a few days. Some 200 people have to show up at the administrative offices to clear their advances, return computers and any other equipment, and get various superiors to sign off that they leave clean and clear. And staff is just a small part of the closing. There is real estate, millions of dollars of drugs, inventory to distribute and a thousand other things. Normally a close out of a project our size takes 6 to 4 months; we have less than 2 – hoping, hoping all along that the signatures would materialize in time. We still hope but it is getting close to the wire. A bit like the debt ceiling thing.

This turbulence comes at difficult time. First there is Ramazan in the hottest month of the year, then there are the countless acts of revenge and intimidation by insurgents, Taliban or others, across the country, the unease left by the American’s announcement of withdrawal, the talks about the second Bonn conference with endless speculation and rumors about the role of the Taliban.

One rumor that is being aired on various TV stations is that Karzai is keeping several ministries in the hands of acting (caretaker) ministers so that these can be offered to the Taliban. Health is among them. Among my colleagues they make jokes about serving the old Taliban minister of health again, a lawyer mullah who became a health mullah overnight. If true it will probably undo a lot of our work, especially efforts to bring more women into the healthcare professions.

1 Response to “Turbulentia”

  1. 1 axel August 4, 2011 at 6:45 am

    The USAID failure to get this paperwork done is as stupid as the failure of Congress to do the appropriations for the FAA, effectively stopping much of the critical work they are doing. Shameful, hurtful!

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