March 7th, 2010
10:24 PM ET

Can Karzai deliver in Marjah?


The small windows of the U.S. military aircraft give only fleeting views of the ground below. But it’s spectacular. A soaring, snow-capped mountain range.

Behind me the man who officially leads this country has his eyes closed. He might be sleeping. No, he’s not. He’s just caught my cameraman trying to get a shot of him. And he’s not happy about it.

President Hamid Karzai is referred to as “The Mayor of Kabul” by those who say his government has little influence outside the capital. Today’s journey is an attempt to expand that influence. He’s going to Marjah for the first time in his life.

The Afghan president swoops in on a marine helicopter and is greeted warmly by hundreds of men. There are no women.

This desolate town in Helmand province is now world famous because it was recently the focus of efforts to drive the Taliban out of this region as part of Operation Moshtarak. The president is here to persuade the local population that military forces will now hold this ground and his government will start delivering services.

Any services would help. Marjah is a shadow of a town. It’s difficult to describe how little there is here.

The local elders forcefully tell Hamid Karzai they need more of everything. They need all the basics: roads, schools, hospitals and honest police. They tell him they have been oppressed by the Taliban and abandoned by Kabul. He agrees and promises to help.

So now what? It only took weeks to drive back the Taliban. But building communities that can resist them in the future will take much longer. The people of Marjah know just how hard that’s going to be and President Karzai learned today not all of them believe it’s even possible.

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