Farrah Musani: Action Diplomacy

Kandahar, Afghanistan — Kandahar might seem like an unusual place to run into a diplomat. It’s a conflict area, after all, and whether or not you have diplomatic passport, stepping outside prescribed safe areas can land you in a good bit of hot water.

But that’s exactly where Farrah Musani, an officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs, has been for the last year.

“This is a totally atypical environment for DFAIT to be working. I don’t think there’s anything else like it,” Musani tells me over coffee in the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) cafeteria.

“It’s been a pretty intense experience – but a very good one.”

Born outside Toronto, Musani moved with her family to Calgary in 1987. She graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government before joining the Foreign Affairs team 2 years ago.

After a year with START– the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force – in Ottawa, Musani got the call to head south. “I remember I got a phone call in mid-May last year,” she recalls.

“I called my parents and said, ‘How would you feel about my going to Kandahar for a year?’ At first all I got was silence on the other end of the line, but actually they were pretty cool about it.”

Musani’s work has focused on a number of areas, including assessing the state of the justice system in the region.

“A lot of what I do has focused on gathering information, and assessing people’s perception of what’s needed.”

The policing sector in Afghanistan is widely acknowledged – by Afghans and the international community alike – as needing fairly comprehensive reform. Indeed, this will increasingly be a focus for Canada, both in Kandahar, and country-wide.

Through the Global Peace and Security Fund, Musani is bridging the intangible diplomatic work characteristic of her department, with bricks-and-mortar projects like building police sub-stations. She suggests that Canadians and Afghans have been working closely on the file, and are starting to see results.

The Government of Afghanistan’s effort to further the justice file is also a focus for Musani. She suggests that presently the justice sector is divided between the formal system, with judges and lawyers, and the informal system, which is generally described as being more “restorative” and is “supposed to return a sense of balance” to society.

“There are clearly limits to both systems,” Musani says, and she has been working with leaders from all walks of life in Kandahar to determine how best to identify and work within those limits.

It’s with talk of meeting chief justices and prosecutors, that one gets a sense for Musani’s background in diplomacy, and of the tremendous impact that such political officers can – and have – make on the ground. “I can really see the progress made since I started last year – we’re learning how to work as a team.”

The team she’s talking about involves not just Afghans, but also Canadians from a wide spectrum of agencies: the Canadian Forces, the Canadian International Development Agency, Corrections Canada, her home department of DFAIT and the RCMP. “There’s a complementary way of operating here in Kandahar. We’re not pinned into any one department’s possibly narrow way of doing things.”

Canada’s engagement in rebuilding Afghanistan is the largest in our country’s history. And Musani seems proud to be a part of it. “This is a huge engagement for Canada – and I feel like if we’re going to do it, we should do it right.”

Musani wraps up her stint in Kandahar this summer, but further adventures are not far off: she’s slated to start at Canada’s embassy in Kabul come the fall.

Source: http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca

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