My Last Tour: An Old Dari Proverb

An ANA soldier with a NATO M-249 machine gun.
An ANA soldier with a NATO M-249 machine gun.
TAMPA (2010-3-2) -

There’s an old Afghan saying, “Bad water flows from the spring.” An Afghan National Army officer used the proverb to sum up his country’s struggle with corruption during a recent discussion with Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple.

Corruption is a frequent theme on Temple’s blog - Afghanistan My Last Tour - and a way of survival for many people in Afghanistan. Temple said he’s gained somewhat of a reputation among the ANA soldiers for his directness and mentoring efforts.

“I’m not afraid to start a conversation about anything,” Temple said.

The Afghan officer who talked with Temple used to be an inspector overseeing ANA soldier pay. It was during a time when the Afghan commanders were given the soldiers’ pay to dole out. But, when soldiers went AWOL, some commanders wouldn’t report them so they could keep the soldiers pay.

The ANA inspector reported the deception, but he told Temple nothing was done. So the inspector resigned and took a different position.

Afghan soldiers are paid differently now. They’re given a bank card they take to an ATM to get their pay. But Temple has questions about that because the bank forms are only in English.

“It’s not in Dari, it’s not in Pashto,” Temple said. “Basically they’re told go ahead and sign here and put your thumbprint and check you want to be paid in U.S. dollars. That’s a part I found really bizarre because they receive their money in Afghanis. ”

Temple did some research and found that the Kabul Bank is receiving the money in U.S. dollars and then exchanging the dollars into Afghanis. The bank then gets the benefit of the exchange rate.

During their discussion, Temple brought up that some Afghan soldiers siphon off gasoline and steal firewood to sell it at the bazaar. It’s a problem that Temple even mentioned to a visiting a colonel from the Pentagon.

“He shocked me,” Temple said. “He said, ‘I’d do the same thing if I was here.’”

At the time, Temple said he didn’t know how to respond to the colonel’s comment. But, in hindsight, he said maybe it’s a matter of selecting the lesser of two evils.

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