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8,000 miles from home, former PDs help build a new Afghanistan

Senior Editor Regular News

8,000 miles from home, former PDs help build a new Afghanistan

Senior Editor

Rick Parker’s home away from home in Afghanistan is a walled compound of four buildings protected by armed guards, where his commute is a one-minute walk from his bed in Building 3 to his desk in Building 1.

Lewis Buzzell and Rick Parker Lewis Buzzell’s home in another compound forced him to brave Kabul’s “ferocious” rush-hour traffic on crumbling roads, making him think his “chances of getting hurt in a traffic accident were greater than being injured by the Taliban.”

This pair of former Florida public defenders (Parker the elected public defender of the Eighth Circuit and Buzzell an assistant in the Fourth) serve as employees of Pacific Architects and Engineers, Inc., a private firm working with the Ministry of Justice Assistance Section and the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association.

They joined 65 U.S. attorneys in nation-building, mentoring, and training Afghan nationals, with the goal of helping secure a sustainable future for this war-torn country nearly 8,000 miles from Florida.

Working six days a week, with Fridays off, Parker calls it a second career. He’s been there for 22 months, saying PAE has received a contract extension to May 31, 2013.

“There are uncertainties about security and housing, but, if feasible, I will stay throughout the current contract,” Parker said.

Returning home in mid-July after about a year’s service, Buzzell said: “I arranged with our boss to leave the program six weeks before the end of my contract to go with my son, Logan, who is a college intern working for the United Nations’ World Food Program in Bangkok.”

Via email, they answered a few questions from the News :

* What has been the greatest surprise about the experience so far?

Parker: “Prior to deployment to Afghanistan, my employer, Pacific Architects and Engineers, Inc., presented a two-week training program on living conditions and cultural differences that avoided big surprises on arrival. The experience of living and working here yielded some detail, such as the relatively small number of attorneys and difficulty in getting reliable data. The disruption of 30 years of conflict has affected government administration and management, which is complicated by poor communication.”

Buzzell: “I agree with Rick’s assessment and have nothing to add.”

* What is your day-to-day routine, or is there no such thing as a routine?

Parker: Besides his “one-minute commute to work,” Parker said he occasionally travels to “locations in Kabul, such as the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Justice Annex, the offices of the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association, and other groups involved in similar work. We did present training programs in four other provinces (Lewis went to Balkh Province and Kunduz Province, and I went to Nangarhar Province and Herat Province).”

Buzzell: “My daily routine was different than Rick’s because I lived at a compound different than where the main office is located. Kabul’s rush hour traffic can be ferocious, and the highway infrastructure is quite poor in some areas of Kabul. The good thing was I got to see a lot of the city I otherwise never would have seen, but the commute did get old at times.”

* Do you feel safe?

Parker: “Afghanistan is a dangerous place with an active insurgency. PAE is extremely conscious of security, so I don’t worry about my personal safety. I live in a walled compound protected by armed guards and travel in armored vehicles. While aware of potential violence, it is so random that it seems a remote problem.”

Buzzell: “I agree with Rick on this point. I did stay aware of the news, security updates, etc., in an effort to promote my own safety.. . . The violence within Kabul was random, and almost always resulted in many more Afghan citizens being maimed and killed than foreign casualties.”

* What do you miss most about home?

Parker: “Family contact. Email and Skype calls just don’t adequately compensate for being separated by time and place. Freedom of unrestricted movement is also missed. Just to be able to walk or drive around when I am home seems like a luxury, since here I can’t drive and can only walk on a treadmill.”

[Parker and his wife, Kathryn, were able to spend a week together in Nassau in February 2011; 10 days touring France in September 2011; and they have planed a trip to Northern Italy and Switzerland next year. Parker has been home for Christmas 2011, and for both of their children’s law school graduations: Rhett, from the University of Florida in May 2011, and Alison from New York Law School in May 2012.]

Still, Parker says, “The separation is very difficult. Even with new friends here, it gets lonely. I miss the daily routine of family life.”

Buzzell: “Amen to what Rick wrote.”

* How will you measure your success? What do you consider your best day so far?

Parker: “For me, my best day was the successful conclusion of the AIBA General Assembly in October 2011. So much effort went into the planning, preparation, and presentation that the end was a celebration of teamwork between Afghan Bar officials and international partners.

“Success is measured by expanded reach of the formal justice system and improvements in fairness. It is hard to quantify, but increased international donor assistance, and training and mentoring of participants have resulted in observable improvements.”

Buzzell: “I agree with Rick about measuring success. It is difficult to quantify success in this context. I believe that time will tell and that we can better gauge success from the perspective of five years in the future.

“Although our involvement in assisting the AIBA stage the General Assembly is high on my list of good days, for me, the best day was in late April 2012. It was at the end of the last training session we presented. The training was designed solely for criminal defense attorneys employed by the Ministry of Justice and NGO’s [nongovernment organizations] who provide free legal services to indigent Afghan citizens.

“On the last day of the training in Kunduz, we held a closing ceremony to award certificates of completion. I ended up talking for almost an hour with the lawyers in attendance. Their sincere appreciation for our efforts and eagerness to learn both about their own system and the American way of doing things was most gratifying. It was especially rewarding to see the growth of the young Afghan lawyers on our team who did a masterful job presenting the training.

“Working directly with the Afghan lawyers was the best part of my job. That particular day, it all seemed to come together in one place at one time, in a fashion that made all the hard work worthwhile.”

* Do you think you’ll be able to make a real difference for positive change after the Americans leave?

Parker: “We have effected positive change that establishes a foundation for a sustainable future. The Afghans we work with appreciate our efforts to advise and assist in improving the system. We are not here to impose a U.S. or Western system, but to use our experience to recommend ways to establish the rule of law to ensure justice for all citizens.

“Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic with a constitution that conforms to the Quran. As a civil law nation, we common law lawyers have had to respect their traditions and culture, and to learn and adjust our advice in order to be effective.

“The Afghan lawyers and translators employed by PAE as teachers and mentors will be the future leaders of the Afghanistan legal profession and government institutions. Lewis and I are not here to represent clients or manage departments, but to guide and recommend using our experience. Our advice, assistance, and changes implemented will be here after we leave.”

Buzzell: “I can’t add a thing to what Rick wrote. I can only echo my hope for the future of the Afghan legal system that lies with the young people I met and with whom we worked. They are dedicated to making their nation a better place in all aspects of life.”

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