As we recently shared, Carlos Terrones, CCAS BA ’98, published the book, The Other Front in Afghanistan: Stories of Maiwand Building Governance & Development. Terrones, an international development practitioner, has worked on international development projects related to good governance and civil society in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. We caught up with Terrones to find out more about his book and the assignment in Afghanistan that inspired him to write it:
GW: Your book narrates your experience as the U.S Department of State Civilian Lead in Southern Afghanistan from 2011 – 2012. What was that assignment like?
CT: In Afghanistan, as the State Department lead, I served as the senior governance advisor to the District Governor and District Development Assembly on governmental decentralization processes and policy to enhance the Afghan sub-national government scope and performance.
I led a team of USAID and U.S. Army Officers in developing a District Stabilization Plan and Afghanistan’s Regional South Stabilization Framework, which identified civilian-military government priorities and predicted fundamental principles that included: enhancing responsiveness and accountability of Afghan decision makers at the Afghan Sub-National Level; reconciling with the Taliban; and building the capacity of District Government Officials in order to sustain progress post-2014.
I had the opportunity to serve as the special advisor on governance and development to the Deputy Commanding General 82nd Airborne Division; Commander 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment; Commander 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI); Deputy Commander 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment; Commander 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment; and Village Stability Operations (VSO) – Joint and Combined Special Operations Task Force Afghanistan. Over the course of one year, our team turned around the Maiwand District – known as the birthplace of the Taliban, into one of the most supportive and engaged districts in governance and economic development in Kandahar Province. Today, the Maiwand District Government has decentralized the support with the Afghan Ministries of Economy, Reconstruction, and Justice. We mentored Afghan Government Officials to reinstate Maiwand’s District Development Assembly.
This initiative has allowed villagers to connect with the District Government for the provision of service delivery, such as the construction of water wells and biogas projects. Implementation of these projects has destabilized the Taliban’s Shadow Government. We assisted the District Governor to establish the first Vocational Technical Training Center (VTTC) in the District of Maiwand, which is undergoing recovery from Taliban insurgent activity. The VTTC programs have steered away the Maiwand youth from violence and possible joining of insurgent groups. ISAF’s Commanders Emergency Response Fund was provided to trainees post-graduation for start-up businesses with the Afghan government commitment to continue assisting the trainees. I also served as the senior spokesperson official of the U.S. Mission in Kandahar Province – Maiwand District.
GW: During such an assignment, what keeps you motivated?
CT: I had a clear vision, mission and set of objectives for my work. Without a clear vision and knowledge on how your work impacts the big picture, you may end up spending a significant time on unimportant matters. I had my lessons learned from Iraq and was better prepared to engage in Afghanistan.
Once I clarified my vision and goals, I formulated a detailed strategy in order to track my progress on a regular ongoing basis. I broke down the complexity of the district into a series of manageable projects that could be achievable in the short-term. Once I started to achieve short milestones, it gave me the feeling that I was making an impact. Working in a war zone can be draining—you need a feeling of accomplishment and you need to feel that you are doing your best to make a difference. The more motivated you are, the less likely you are to fall into a fit of panic or insecurity and lose confidence and motivation.
The secret to motivation and success in a war zone is hard work, creativity, and perseverance. It’s important to keep things in perspective and always remind yourself of why you are in a war zone. Aside from the assignment itself, it’s often about realizing your potential, feeling alive and useful, feeling connected with and contributing to the community, making a difference, expressing creativity, expanding your skills and abilities and helping others.
GW: You’ve said that you hope your book will become a guide for international development practitioners and graduate students. What do you wish you had known before going into the field?
CT: Doing international development work in a war zone is complex, unpredictable, and characterized by crisis. For future practitioners, my book will offer guidance as to what to expect in a conflict zone, how to overcome failure, and see the signs for potential risks. Before I went to a conflict zone, I wish someone had given me more details about the complexity of getting aid resources. I was able to get aid resources to the communities, but I found it more difficult than what I had imagined.
GW: What drew you to GW?
CT: I chose GW because of its emphasis on teaching and the importance GW attaches to public service. I chose political science because of the interdisciplinary nature of the coursework and the relevance of many of the courses to what I thought I might do overseas. In fact, the courses in international relations and public policy have all proved to be of considerable value, especially in recent years during my tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. My years at GW were truly wonderful in every respect, and I remain indebted to the professors who helped make my experience enjoyable and stimulating.
GW: Any advice for aspiring policymakers?
CT: Public policy will never be your final test, because, fortunately or unfortunately, public policy is a one big test, just like all of life is one big curriculum. It all just comes in different versions, different forms, and usually with a lot more hanging in the balance. Public service is never an easy path, however, it is worthwhile and rewarding. You are in public in service to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. In the end, you are here to enrich the world with your knowledge.