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Haidari Speaks to U.S. Department of Defense Advisors on the Principle of “Do No Harm”


On June 11, 2010, a group of senior U.S. Department of Defense civilian officials with the Ministry of Defense Advisor (MODA) Program visited the Embassy before deploying to Afghanistan. The group consisted of 18 civilians that would serve as technical advisors to the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior. Their training included five weeks in Washington, DC followed by two weeks of field training in Indiana.


Political Counselor M. Ashraf Haidari welcomed the officials to the Embassy and thanked them for the tremendous sacrifice they are making, leaving their families for a year, to help build institutional capacity in the Afghan government. Haidari discussed with the group issues they might confront while on duty in Afghanistan. He emphasized the concept of “Do No Harm,” encouraging the group to generate institutional capacity, train Afghans to perform effectively, and eventually, be able to teach their own successors. “We should not accept the status quo; rather we must work together to train leaders to help build a stronger future for Afghanistan. In other words, help Afghans help themselves,” said Haidari. 


Haidari stressed that Afghanistan is a very young nation with a high rate of illiteracy. Education, higher education, and vocational and on the job training would go a long way in serving Afghanistan’s long-term development goals. More specifically, Haidari noted that by educating and training competent individuals, the practice of nepotism, a widespread problem in most less developed countries, can overtime be replaced by meritocracy. 


Moreover, Haidari encouraged the advisers to communicate and consulate with Afghans effectively, while taking time to think about the long-term implications of the policies they would work with their Afghan counterparts to formulate. He noted that international approach to Afghanistan’s reconstruction had so far been overly focused on “quick fixes” at the cost of long-term solutions to the many complex challenges facing Afghanistan.


He also informed the advisors of Afghans’ hospitality and loyal friendship, and requested them to help young professionals learn about higher education opportunities in the United States. “If you help one Afghan get admission to a four-year college in the United States, you can be sure to have made a major contribution to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development,” Haidari told the group.


After his initial briefing on the overall working environment in Afghanistan, the delegation had a lengthy Q&A discussion, including on what to avoid doing in the work context. Haidari stressed the importance of showing humility, respect, and patience. But he advised them against tolerating any form of corruption, which he said they should immediately take up with senior Afghan officials for resolution. “Like all nations, Afghans are proud individuals and do not react well to arrogance or disrespect,” said Haidari. He explained that many Afghans may be illiterate, but they are exceptionally mature, wise, and experienced by having been through so many life hardships. “Afghans are quick to understand and are quite politically savvy, as they have long listened to radios, daily discussed the fate of our nation, and the role of the international community in helping us rebuild Afghanistan,” Haidari noted. He wished the group well, and assured them that the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy in Washington DC would remain at their service to facilitate their travel to and work in Afghanistan.


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