Compared to the fall of Kandahar and Herat, Afghanistan’s second and third cities, the capture of Qala-i-Naw, a small provincial capital in a remote corner of the country, seems, and is, irrelevant. But not for the thousands of Spanish soldiers and aid workers who worked there.
In the distribution of the PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) among NATO partners, Spain was given Badghis, one of the most backward provinces of one of the poorest countries in the world. For the first time, Spain assumed responsibility not only to guarantee her safety but also to help bring her out of the backlog. With 20,590 square kilometers (somewhat less than Galicia) and 400,000 inhabitants, when the Spanish arrived there it did not have a single kilometer of road.
Between 2005 and 2013, 160 kilometers of roads and eight of asphalt streets were built in the capital, a park with 35 machines was created for public works, a water network for domestic consumption and sanitation was laid in Qala-i-Naw and 35 wells in rural areas. But the jewel in the crown, recalls Soraya Rodríguez, Secretary of State for International Cooperation (2008-11), was the rehabilitation of the provincial hospital, with 106 beds, which served 60,000 people, and the construction of five rural outpatient clinics. A maternal and child ward was set up because many women bled to death in childbirth and many children suffered from malnutrition; and a school for midwives and nurses, because the men did not allow their wives to be cared for by male doctors. Three secondary schools (one for women), six primary schools and more than 400 temporary modules were built; with about 12,000 students in total. And a training center for 380 teachers; including 60 women.
Of the 525 million that Spain spent on humanitarian aid to Afghanistan (aside from the 3,500 that the military deployment cost), more than 80 were dedicated to trying to get this province out of backwardness. In 2013, when the Spanish troops withdrew from Badghis, all the projects were transferred to the Afghan authorities. Not a single aid worker remained in the area (“it was impossible without the security provided by the military,” Rodríguez admits) and the new infrastructure began to deteriorate. The return of the Taliban is the last straw for many of those works, starting with the girls’ schools.
“It gives me chills to think what this means for the Afghan population and, especially, for the girls who for 20 years have been educated in freedom and are now subjected to horror and atrocity,” reflects the former Secretary of State.