Break from Afghanistan

JULIAN RAETHEL
Last updated 05:00 27/03/2014
Chris Carter

JOB PERKS: Chris Carter outside the famous Blue Mosque in Mazar.

Chris Carter
HOME FRONT: Chris Carter at his home in Te Atatu.

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If there's no other mark Chris Carter leaves in Afghanistan there will at least be a small diversification in agriculture.

"I'm very keen on gardening and Afghans love our silverbeet," he says.

"They call it ‘New Zealand spinach'.

"I'm on strict orders from my Afghan and Nepalese guards to bring the seeds back for planting."

Mr Carter, 61, has just returned to Afghanistan, continuing his work as project manager of the Afghanistan Subnational Governance Programme, part of the United Nations mission to Kabul.

The former Labour Te Atatu MP was able to get two weeks rest and recreation back in his Te Atatu home with his partner Peter before flying out again last Friday.

Mr Carter has been working in Afghanistan for two-and-a-half years and says his career is very different but in some parts similar to his political prowess in New Zealand.

"I think people have always respected the fact I've worked hard, even my political opponents.

"My job still involves personal relationships with the governors and I'm one of the few foreigners that gets to travel around Afghanistan."

Mr Carter represented the Te Atatu electorate from 1993 to 1996 and again between 1999 and 2011.

He made the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2010 after a well-publicised fall out with former Labour leader Phil Goff and was later expelled from the party.

"The hardest part was being sabotaged by my own team within the caucus," Mr Carter says.

"I didn't expect my colleagues to be my enemies.

"I still consider myself 100 per cent Labour but haven't had any contact with Phil since."

Mr Carter took the UN job to do something he says is worthwhile.

His contract officially ends on December 31 and he says he's noticed some significant changes during his time helping to strengthen Afghanistan's local government structures.

"The security situation is deteriorating but a lot of young men and women are now coming out of the school system which is great.

"The younger generations are becoming more impatient and want change.

"Afghans don't necessarily want our style of democracy but they want to have a say and security for their kids.

"Even the smallest improvement is still an improvement."

Mr Carter had a close call on October 18 when a suicide bomber attacked a passing military convoy only 25 metres away from his compound.

He was waiting for an Australian colleague who was running five minutes late and says that wait was probably what saved his life.

"It was surreal, like a movie. I switched off.

"I feared that some trigger-happy guard was going to shoot my driver because he was dressed in traditional Afghan clothing.

"So I whipped him into the underground bunker as quick as I could."

While back in West Auckland Mr Carter hasn't noticed too many changes in the suburbs but identifies the western ring route as good signs of progress.

"I went on a two-hour walk the other day through my old electorate.

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"It brought back memories of campaigning, knocking on doors and the many dogs I ran away from."

- Western Leader

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