Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Ex-Governors Play the Blame Game

While everyone agrees that Zabul is one of the most troubled provinces in the country, no one is willing to take responsibility.
By Danish Karokhel

The troubled southeast province of Zabul is one of the poorest, least developed and most dangerous areas of the country.

Now on its third governor in less than a year, the province is considered so unstable that even humanitarian organisations do not dare to venture in the area, especially after workers on a United States-funded road construction project came under attack from anti-government forces.

Meanwhile, the current governor’s two predecessors are both pointing the finger elsewhere for the growing unrest in the province.

Hamidullah Tokhi, who was removed from office last July, warned that unless decisive action is taken against a Taleban revival in the region, events could soon spin out of control.

Tokhi – who once supported hard-liner Gulbuddin Hekmatyar but switched his support to Hamed Karzai after the Taleban rose to power – warned that “this will speed up. This is a cancer which will spread to other provinces”.

Tokhi, who was the local military commander who controlled the region both before and after the Taleban regime, is still bitter about being sacked and blames his successor, Hafizullah Hashemi Popalzai, for the mounting chaos in Zabul.

“The security situation is very bad there,” he said. “Eight districts [out of 11] have fallen [from central control]; there is no administration, and some districts are completely with the Taleban.”

Tokhi said that he would like to see international peacekeepers and more US coalition forces deployed to the province to try to restore security.

He said that an “outsider” such as Popalzai simply could not get the job done and that the central government should not have appointed a Kandahari to the position of governor of Zabul.

“Unless there is support from the public you cannot bring security with soldiers alone,” Tokhi said.

There has been a long history of tribal rivalries between the neighbouring provinces of Zabul and Kandahar. Late last year, Kandahar governor Yusuf Pashtun was quoted as blaming Tokhi for not paying attention to the re-emergence of the Taleban while he was in charge.

These southeastern provinces bordering Pakistan were the heartland from which the hard-line Taleban regime emerged and consolidated its power.

A source in Kabul who is knowledgeable about the security situation in the southeast said that the Taleban in the area had “never really pulled out” and after the American bombardment in 2001, had re-emerged as a highly mobile force – often on motorcycles - controlling most of Zabul except for the provincial capital, Qalat.

However, Popalzai, who held the post of governor until January of this year, insisted that he had had control over all of the province’s districts, with the exception of Arghandab.

He also dismissed reports of a Taleban revival and blamed current security problems on factional rivalries and individual criminals.

“Thieves want to take advantage of the chaos,” he said. “The Taleban don’t have power, they are in a weak situation.”

But two people who served as delegates from the province to the recent Constitutional Loya Jirga disagree, saying that the situation in Zabul has gone from bad to worse.

Saifullah Haqbayan told IWPR that Taleban are quite visible in some districts, and the province’s administration is so weak that many people are turning to the militia and would support their return to power.

Nazar Mohammad, meanwhile, complained that the appalling state of the economy was creating despair. “Ordinary workers [pyadagan] are stealing wood to warm themselves,” he said.

Popalzai said that he had worked to root out corruption in the province, and took credit for creating new councils and hospitals. “I had established good relations with people. I had won people's hearts,” he said.

In January, though, he was out of a job after Karzai replaced him with the current governor, Khyal Mohammad.

Popalzai said that he would accept this, “We will obey [the central government] orders.”

Tokhi said Khyal Mohammad, the former deputy governor of Ghazni province, may have a better chance of success and wished him well, “I hope people will see him as a friend and help him.”

Presidential spokesperson Javed Ludin told IWPR that the central government is following events in Zabul closely, and that the security situation there is considered the worst in the country.

“The people have suffered a lot and the government is making Zabul a priority,” he said.

Both former governors denied allegations that their administrations were guilty of wrongdoing during their terms in office.

Popalzai denied claims that he profited from collecting illegal highway tolls while in power. Tokhi, who has just purchased a large new house in Kabul, denied making money from illegal weapons sales.

Both men are now jobless.

Danish Karokhel is a local IWPR trainer/editor in Kabul.

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