Helmand's governor looks to develop the area into a regional hub

March 19, 2010 (Foreign Policy By Jean MacKenzie): Helmand's governor is trying to coin a new nickname for the city: the next Dubai. This city is poised to make a bid for massive development that, according to its governor, Gulab Mangal, will radically transform it.

Judging from a recent trip I took to the capital, Lashkar Gah, much progress has already been made. The roads in the capital have been paved, cutting down on the fine sand. Buildings are going up, more and more businesses and private organizations are opening branches in Lashkar Gah, and there are almost daily commercial flights in and out of the Lashkar Gah airport. A brand-new shopping mall and hotel are being built. The Afghan police have a shiny new compound, and the Department of Women's Affairs has been given a large center on the town's outskirts.

There is generally an air of calm and security in the capital. Women and children can be seen on the streets, shops have a distinct bustle, and I felt a sense of hope and promise in the air. On this trip I spent some time in the bazaar, poking around bolts of brightly colored fabric and contemplating an update to my wardrobe. I attracted a crowd -- mostly young boys who wanted to shake my hand while lisping "salaam," but no hostility, no nervous glances to see who might be watching.

Mangal has plans to turn Helmand into a regional hub for air operations. If all goes according to the governor's outline -- Mangal is building a fruit-processing plant on the airport grounds, giving farmers a convenient destination for their produce -- industry will bloom, turning Helmand's abundant fruit into gold, or at least juice suitable for export.

Here, former militants are returning to society. “The former Taliban are now participating in cash-for-work programs, cleaning out ditches, and cleaning their shops," Mangal said. "This shows they have reintegrated back into society."

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