The New York Times In America

November 16, 2003

Kandahar's New Governor Seeks Help to Fight Taliban and Chaos


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan Nearly three months after President Hamid Karzai replaced one of the more powerful and colorful warlords in this important southern province, local and foreign officials are warning that the new governor will fail unless he receives more resources and support from the central government and international donors.

The appointment of the new governor, Yusuf Pashtun, a college-educated, English-speaking former city planning and housing minister in the central government, was greeted by American diplomats and others as a sign that Mr. Karzai was finally reckoning with warlords who run their provinces like fiefdoms and pay only lip service to the capital.

The problems here are arguably the most acute of those in any Afghan region. Much of Kandahar and the three surrounding provinces are in thrall to an insurgency, thought to be the work of the Taliban. Almost no development aid is reaching the province's rural areas, fueling widespread discontent with the government and creating fertile ground for the rebels.

With only a scattering of trained policemen in the whole region, and most of the force unpaid for 18 months, the governor has almost no means with which to turn things around. "They send him no support and what will he do?" said Talatbek Masadykov, chief of the United Nations mission in Kandahar. "He's an educated, professional guy but they have to support him, with resources, militarily and by organizing police training."

Compounding the governor's difficulties, the 40-year-old turbines at the main dam above Kandahar have broken down and are considered beyond repair. The whole region was without electricity for two months until American assistance rushed in temporary generators.

Then, just weeks into Mr. Pashtun's tenure, 41 Taliban prisoners, arrested over months of operations, tunneled their way out of Kandahar's main prison, with the evident connivance of the prison authorities.

"Kabul must pay attention to the region," said Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president's brother and his representative in the south. "The central government is trying to do everything countrywide. My point is: make priorities. The security problem is here."

American-led coalition forces are still fighting suspected pockets of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the mountainous border regions of the country and also carry out occasional vehicle checks in the city of Kandahar. Members of the Afghan militias that are known as mujahedeen fight alongside them. But there are virtually no police officers patrolling the roads, or keeping the peace in the districts and villages.

In a recent interview, Governor Pashtun noted that the existing police officers were so poorly trained that "they do not even know how to wear a uniform."

Kandahar's deputy police chief, Gen. Muhammad Salim, confirmed that these officers had received only a food allowance, but no salary, for 18 months. Residents of Kandahar complain that the police rob or take bribes to make a living.

Prison guards are believed to have taken bribes to allow the Taliban prisoners to dig a tunnel from their cell under the foundations 30 yards to the outer wall. They dumped the earth in a side room over a period of several weeks, officials at the prison said.

United Nations officials say the Taliban are handing out large sums of money, paying recruits $200 for each operation more if they kill a foreigner and $17 for every day spent on operations in Afghanistan, far more than the police are paid.

Aware that the United States is already training local police forces in Iraq, Mr. Pashtun said, "The Americans are learning from their experience in Afghanistan and are applying the lessons in Iraq."

Mr. Pashtun has already brought a new businesslike tone to the governor's office. Government officials, armed with rolls of planning papers and documents, shuttle in and out of his office for rapid meetings.

Gone are the turbaned elders and strongmen who used to fill the rooms and courtyards, waiting for handouts from the previous governor, Gul Agha Shirzai. "His pockets were deep," one local official said of the previous governor.

The former governor reaped millions of dollars from customs duties at the nearby border with Pakistan, but Mr. Pashtun is sending the customs duties to Kabul, United Nations officials say.

That move should improve relations with the central government, but it will upset tribal leaders used to handouts for their communities, and it leaves Mr. Pashtun dependent on the notoriously slow and indifferent Kabul authorities for budget and reconstruction.

Aid agencies complain that they cannot drive on even the main highways between the provincial capitals for fear of attacks by gunmen, since aid workers and government officials have been the targets of the suspected Taliban guerrillas.

The Voluntary Association for the Rehabilitation of Afghanistan, an Afghan agricultural aid agency, stopped working in Helmand Province, west of Kandahar, after two of its staff members were shot and killed in September.

In the other provinces the association's workers, all Afghans, travel by public transport, without any documents to connect them with their work, said Najmuddin Mojadedi, the group's director.

Since last year, the number of foreign aid agencies operating in Kandahar is down to only 6 or 7 from 24 that operated here last year, and none of them work in the neediest, most remote areas.

Mr. Pashtun reckons he has six months to turn things around or the situation will deteriorate beyond control. "At the moment there is a vicious circle, no security and so no development," he said. "The Taliban want that to create more discontent. I have to break this vicious circle, bring more security and make a bigger ground for development."

He wants major assistance to train and equip and pay a police force of 2,000 officers within six months to provide enough security for Afghan aid agencies to reach remote districts in the region. The international aid agencies would wait longer, he said.

Funds have been promised by the United States, and there are plans for a police training center in Kandahar. But, Mr. Pashtun said, "so far I am talking philosophy it needs more action."

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